Clear Channel UK is to introduce an array of environmentally beneficial projects, including CO2-busting "vertical meadows" across a roll-out of new digital 48-sheet poster sites and living roofs situated above solar-powered bus shelters.
Speaking to Campaign ahead of the company's "Platform for good" upfront, Clear Channel chief executive Justin Cochrane drew a parallel between Clear Channel and the out-of-home sector and his hobby at home in Ireland – drystone walling.
"When you build something out of stone, it takes a lot of patience, but there's a real sense of permanence," he said.
It's a point that applies equally to how Clear Channel is ploughing major investment into outdoor infrastructure. Plans are afoot to expand its Adshel Live digital network – which last month installed its 2,000th screen – to install three screens every day and grow its coverage by 50%, reaching 3,000 screens by the end of 2020.
Some time in the next year, the company will roll out redesigned Landmark bus shelters, an adaptable design that can include a living roof, solar-powered lighting and construction using recycled materials.
Clear Channel also announced its Billboard Live national digital 48-sheet. Joint managing director Richard Bon said: "What we did for Adshel and the paper six-sheet, we’re doing for out-of-home’s oldest and best-loved medium – a paper billboard. We will be building a digital network, delivered at a national scale."
Every newly installed billboard will include a vertical meadow: a poster-sized wall planted with hundreds of plants to reduce pollution and create a more attractive environment. Other plans include investing in "edible playgrounds" – areas where children and families can plant and grow their own food.
Cochrane is insistent that Clear Channel's environmental ambitions are about as far from "greenwashing" as a company can get. "It's not on the side," he said. "It's not a green credentials thing, it's not CSR. It's embedded into the business.
"Because we're literally in the environment and we're dealing with a lot of local councils that have a lot of targets, so we try and help them hit them."
About half the money that comes from revenue streams goes back out again – "outdoor provides the infrastructure, the canvas" on which advertising is carried, Cochrane added.
He noted how buoyant the out-of-home sector currently is, charcterised by consolidation and investment across the sector, as well as Clear Channel's own flotation on the New York Stock Exchange.
M&A activity has included Global's triple acquisition of Exterion Media, Primesight and Outdoor Plus last year, and Ocean Outdoor's purchases, including Sweden-based outdoor specialist Visual Art for €63m (£56m) and the Netherlands' Ngage Media.
Reflecting on how the industry has not only survived but thrived in the years since online advertising, with many proclaiming the death of traditional media, Cochrane said: "I don't think we expected huge growth. But there was a confidence that outdoor wasn't going to shrink. Out-of-home is concentrated in urban areas, more in cities where populations are growing, audiences are growing. We generally don't have a fragmenting audience like lots of other media.
"I think about four years ago there was an expectation that digital would drive huge growth. But two things were wrong about that – one, people don't change behaviours immediately; and you don't have the scale immediately as you roll [digital] out."
But growth in digital out-of-home has since gathered pace. The first half of 2019 has seen out-of-home grow 8.2% overall, with digital up 11% and classic (paper) up 3%.
"With digital, it's easy to understand the growth. There's more digital because we're building it. But classic is growing as well and that shows the strength of the medium," Cochrane said.
Meanwhile, Clear Channel looks set to sign a five-year partnership with art and design school Central Saint Martins, asking its students to devise solutions to social and environmental issues. The brainchild of Clear Channel communications manager Michael Seymour, the scheme has already resulted in three ideas that Clear Channel is seriously considering developing into actual outdoor installations.