Signage Challenged by Regulatory Issues

By Bill Dundas, International Sign Association

Addressing various regulatory challenges in recent years, we are reminded of grandma’s proverb about taking care not to toss the baby out with the bath water. Unfortunately, when regulatory bodies start to regulate, they typically gravitate towards the empty washtub approach. In certain instances today, signage is playing the baby’s role.

While ISA and its 2,300 members actively promote the benefits of effective signage, we realize that our point of view isn’t universally shared. In its zeal to regulate mercury contamination, for example, the state of Vermont imposed a comprehensive ban on the sale of mercury-added neon signs. This legislation ignores the obvious fact that sales of ordinary fluorescent lamps, which contribute vastly more mercury to the waste stream, have not been banned in the state. 

In response to this and other state efforts to reduce mercury usage, ISA engages directly with state environmental agencies, as well as through the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC). The goal of these efforts is to ensure that mercury reduction efforts are conducted in a responsible and reasonable manner that recognizes the important and enduring role of neon in the electric sign industry.

In a number of local jurisdictions across the nation, efforts are under way to redefine electric signs as forms of outdoor lighting and thereby to impose the same type of “light pollution” regulations being proposed for general lighting equipment. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and other groups are actively lobbying various jurisdictions to enact new regulations that would substantially impact the conspicuity and value of electric signs. In particular, by suggesting that electric signs should be dimmed down or shut off after dark, IDA attempts to exploit local and state efforts to reduce energy consumption. 

Because of the unique role of internal lighting as used in many illuminated signs, efforts to reduce allowable sign brightness threaten to severely impact the overall visual effectiveness of on-premise signs which currently represent the principal form of retail business identity. For this reason, ISA conducts research and compiles data that supports development of sign luminance standards and enables manufacturers and end users to develop more efficient signage products without sacrificing the crucial effectiveness of on-premise advertising.

By adopting ever-stricter sign codes, municipalities across the nation continue the modern trend of reducing allowable sizes and heights for outdoor, on-premise signs. In some cases, these new restrictions create situations where effective, on-premise business identification becomes virtually impossible. ISA continues to devote substantial resources to rapid-response advocacy efforts which influence development of local sign codes throughout the country. On a weekly basis, members of the ISA advocacy team appear at meetings of local zoning boards and city planning commissions to voice effective counterpoints to the positions of those who fail to appreciate the key role of signage in the modern public environment.

At the heart of these efforts is ISA’s firm commitment to promote and defend the advertising rights of our members’ customers. Reaching this goal depends on maintaining a strong alliance among manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and users of commercial signage. To ensure the viability of on-premise signage in the future, however, ISA welcomes engagement by leaders representing all segments of the retail industry.

After all, the baby that we hope to spare belongs to everyone whose business success depends on effective, point-of-purchase advertising.  

Bill Dundas is Director of Technical & Regulatory Affairs at International Sign Association.

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