On March 30, 2022, as part of the EU Green Deal, the European Commission unveiled a proposal for the Regulation on Sustainable Ecodesign Products (ESPR) with the aim of promoting environmentally friendly products. This proposal introduces the concept of the Digital Product Passport.
What is a Digital Product Passport?
In a nutshell, a Digital Product Passport is an informative document and a digital record that encapsulates information about the entire life cycle of a product. This information includes product identifiers, material composition, performance metrics, as well as environmental and social data. The European Commission proposes Digital Product Passports as a secure and standardized way to share product information across the value chain, accessible through a physical identifier like a QR code or an RFID chip. Digital Product Passports can be introduced and activated at any stage of the production chain or, at the latest, when the product enters the European Union market.
What is the purpose of a DPP?
Digital Product Passports could revolutionize the design, production, and consumption of products by providing consumers and businesses with reliable and comparable information regarding their environmental and social impact. They can play a pivotal role in promoting and expediting the adoption of sustainable production and consumption models. Moreover, Digital Product Passports can facilitate the transition to a circular economy by enhancing the traceability of product life cycles and providing valuable insights for reuse, recycling, and repair. Ultimately, they can bolster corporate communication, simplify messages to stakeholders, safeguard brand reputation by integrating with anti-counterfeiting systems, and help authorities in conducting more effective inspections.
When will DPPs be Regulated?
Digital Product Passports are still in the development phase, but the Regulation on Sustainable Ecodesign Products could come into effect by 2024 and gradually expand until 2030. Among the initial sectors to be affected are the textile industry, electronics, chemistry, and the building products industry.
What will be the requirements for a Digital Product Passport?
Among the general requirements outlined for Digital Product Passports, the ESPR specifies the following:
- The DPP must be linked through a data carrier to a unique product identifier.
- The data carrier must be physically present on the product, its packaging, or accompanying documentation.
- Both the data carrier and the unique product identifier must conform to the (ISO/IEC) 15459:2015 standard.
- All information included in the DPP must be based on open standards, developed with an interoperable format, and must be legible, structured, and searchable.
- The information included in the DPP must reference the model, batch, or item of the product.
DPP and products: standard information
Although the data fields have not yet been precisely defined and further studies and impact assessments are required, the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation already provides some significant guidance on the type of information that Digital Product Passports will need to contain. The ultimate goal is that by 2030, textile products entering the EU market should be durable, repairable, and recyclable, primarily made from recycled fibers, free from harmful substances, and produced ethically in line with social and environmental rights.
The information to be included may encompass:
- Product identifier, specifications, and usage information
- Water and energy consumption during production per kilogram or unit of product
- Potential release of non-biodegradable microplastics
- End-of-life management methods
- Estimated product lifespan
- Greenhouse gas emissions associated with production processes
- Percentage of recycled content in product packaging
- Greenhouse gas emissions from washing and drying clothing items
- Product usage and maintenance guidelines to prevent premature replacement
- Recovery and recycling methods
Challenges and opportunities
Despite the evident advantages of DPPs, there are still knots to untangle and challenges to overcome, such as data privacy concerns, regulatory uncertainties, and data and technology interoperability issues. These very challenges can foster innovation and collaboration among stakeholders, which are essential for creating a more transparent and sustainable economy. They can also open up exciting opportunities for businesses, helping them better position themselves in the market and further engage their customers.
Among the key opportunities and benefits resulting from the implementation of the regulations, we can highlight the ability to:
- trace the extraction/production of raw materials, supporting due diligence efforts;
- tell a product’s story and its impacts, enabling services related to its regeneration, repairability, reuse/resale/second life, recyclability, and new business models;
- assist market surveillance authorities and customs authorities by making the information they may need readily available to perform their duties;
- provide public authorities and policymakers with reliable information to link incentives to sustainability performance;
- allow citizens access to pertinent and verified information regarding the characteristics of products they already own or are considering buying/renting.
“The Digital Product Passport will require the industry to measure and communicate its impacts, incentivizing it to improve its sustainability performance,” explains Francesca Rulli, CEO of Process Factory and founder of 4sustainability. “Simultaneously, consumers will gain the awareness that is currently lacking in their purchasing choices. It’s a revolution that will have significant ramifications for the sector but is indispensable if we truly want to increase transparency, reduce impact, and promote circularity.”
All of this implies that businesses should be prepared, starting by identifying relevant information to share, engaging internal and external stakeholders, seeking partnership opportunities, and gradually experimenting with Digital Product Passports to learn along the way.
“Even though further clarifications will arrive in the coming months, the fundamental variables of transparency are already identified. Companies within the supply chain must equip themselves because the issues and measurements at stake require preparation, tools, methods, and timelines suitable for internal assimilation before being communicated externally.”
How does one approach such a challenge? According to Rulli, the involved parties should focus on different yet complementary aspects:
- The brand needs to map its production supply chains, gaining a deep understanding of them and implementing traceability systems to have certainty about the processes used for product creation.
- The supply chain needs to map and thoroughly understand the impacts of its production processes, providing the brand with verified and validated data to ensure the dissemination of correct information externally and avoid reputational risks.
“By working together, the brand and the supply chain can build more stable programs of productive partnerships and impact reduction, based on a profound knowledge of data and secure traceability and measurement systems. It is with this approach and a forward-looking perspective that we have structured the Ympact platform for supply chain impact measurement, a platform based on the 4sustainability system and The ID Factory’s IT solution for product traceability. Tools are crucial for addressing data collection challenges, especially the more demanding ones that require managing significant amounts of data while ensuring full compliance with current regulations.”