How a recycling partnership bestowed hipster cred -- and original Milton Glaser artwork -- on a Louisiana billboard company

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All Lamar Advertising wanted was to be eco-friendly. Now the outdoor signage company is running an artsy campaign from a world-renowned graphic artist

The quest to save the Earth can result in some odd bedfellows. Just ask Lamar Advertising, the 113-year-old Louisiana billboard company that, three years after partnering with a recycling startup to reduce corporate waste, now finds itself hosting an edgy art campaign from world-renowned graphic designer Milton Glaser.

Lamar is one of the largest billboard operators in the United States — which also makes it a bit of an environmental hazard. The giant vinyl banners on which billboard ads are printed are non-biodegradable, and usually end up in landfills. In 2012, an ex-investment banker started a company called Rareform that turns those used vinyls into backpacks, surf boards, duffel bags and wallets in a process it calls "upcycling."

Lamar was an obvious partner for Rareform, and quickly became one of its largest suppliers. This year alone, Lamar quietly donated about 90,000 pounds of old ads to Rareform.

Always the entrepreneur, Rareform founder Alec Avedissian sensed an opportunity. Why not leverage some of its partner’s advertising space to let customers know what his company and its media cohorts were up to?

The result of the unlikely collaboration is the outdoor campaign #ArtLives. Every month, one Lamar billboard will carry an original work of art by a prominent artist that will later be upcycled into fashion accessories that consumers can purchase.

"We’re really looking to inspire people to take action," said Avedissian in a video promoting the effort. "To see billboards in a new light and to understand what they do and what they buy has an effect on the environment."

The first artist featured in the #ArtLives campaign is Milton Glaser, the renowned 86-year-old graphic artist known for the "I Heart NY" logo and stylish ads for TV’s "Mad Men."

For the month of October, a chilling Glaser illustration of the planet going dark, titled "It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying," is running on a Lamar-branded billboard in L.A.  A small Rareform logo appears in a corner of the board.

In November, the billboard art will be upcycled by Rareform into $99 limited-edition backpacks.

In addition to a local media push, a video explaining the campaign is part of a Rareform crowdfunding drive on Indiegogo, shared across Lamar’s YouTube channel and its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, informing curious motorists about how they can take home their own chunk of the artwork.

Artist Series — #ArtLives from RAREFORM on Vimeo.

"Lamar Advertising is committed to sustainable business practices and we’re taking it to the next level by sharing the message of an iconic artist," said Greg Gauthier, director of sustainability and product research at Lamar.

"It’s our first time to try something like this. We hope it broadens our brand’s appeal and prompts advertisers — including local lawyers, banks, gas stations and other businesses that didn’t think about using billboards — to look at them in a positive way," he said. "We also hope that it encourages the motoring public to pay more attention to billboards overall."

Approximately 500,000 people will see the Glaser billboard during its one-month run, according to a Lamar representative.

Lamar only gives Rareform used billboard ads that run in California, said Gauthier. "Elsewhere, about three-quarters of our used ads are remelted and turned into new products. None of our ads end up in landfills," he said. "Frankly, we wish we had a Rareform-type partner in every state."


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