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IDA Announces Lighting Guidelines for Electronic Messaging Centers

Today the International Dark-Sky Association released lighting guidelines for electronic messaging centers (EMCs). The guidelines, developed in line with Illuminating Engineering Society’s off-roadway sign recommendations, are the culmination of a two-year IDA process to address the growing presence of LED billboards.

“The future of outdoor advertising is electronic, but advertisers implementing electronic signs currently have little professional advice to guide their installation and use,” says IDA Executive Director Ruskin Hartley. “IDA chose to get ahead of the issue and provide concrete guidance for installing EMCs with dark-sky lighting principles in mind.”

When most of us think about LED billboards, we imagine ourselves in a bustling urban space like Times Square, looking up at flashing advertisements. But the same technology, also known as electronic messaging centers (EMCs), has rapidly expanded throughout the outdoor advertising industry in recent years. These signs and billboards are appearing along suburban and rural roadsides and on urban buildings around the world.

Electronic billboards can be up to ten times brighter at night than traditionally lit billboards and can be harmful to the nighttime environment. LED lights from EMCs cannot be shielded, so the light emitted is flooded into the night sky, which wastes energy and contributes to light pollution. Light from EMCs can cause glare and be a dangerous distraction to drivers. In some cases, EMC lighting can be visible from long distances and may affect breeding, foraging and orientation behaviors in nocturnal wildlife.

However, when installed and operated in accordance with IDA’s Guidance for Electronic Messaging Centers, EMCs replacing traditional bulb-lit billboards may actually create a net reduction in sky brightness.

The IDA Technical Committee developed EMC guidelines to provide planners, lighting designers, architects, biologists, government officials, and the general public with solutions for EMCs, both on and off premises, that minimize harm to the natural night and even potentially reduce sky brightness when replacing poorly designed lit signs and billboards.

The guidelines recommend specific values for the amount of light emitted by electronic billboards, suggest curfew times for sign operation, and identify additional best management practices to minimize negative impacts on public safety and the environment. Download EMC Guidelines here.

If you have questions about these guidelines, please contact IDA.