What if there was a way to easily see the raw materials and production process, environmental and social impact, and expected product performance of a consumer product by simply scanning a QR code? Would easy access to that information during the lifecycle of a consumer product, incentivize sustainable production and consumption, promote repair, refurbish, reuse and recycling, and reduce waste? This is the future contemplated by the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. A future that may be obtainable through the implementation of digital product passports.
Digital product passports are a product-specific data set which can provide information on the origin, material composition, repair, disassembly and disposal options for a product and its parts. Digital product passports will increase transparency and accountability in the supply chain, and promote informed decision-making among manufacturers, retailers, consumers, regulators, and other stakeholders, about the products they make, use, buy, and how they dispose of those products after use. The widespread adoption of digital product passports has the potential to bring about a vast shift in business models and product consumption, manufactures should think now about what information the digital product passports for their products may say and how that could affect their bottom line.
Until regulators get involved, there is the potential for digital product passports to divulge a vast amount of product related information, including:
- Raw materials and production processes – what raw materials were used to make the product and where did they come from, how were they extracted or made, what kind of energy and water is used in the production process, what are the working conditions of people involved in producing the product, what are the human rights affect associated with the production or use of the product
- Expected product performance – what is the product designed to do, how long is the product expected to last, how can the product be used safely and effectively, how can users prolong the life of the product, what parts can be replaced and/or repaired, what are the warranty expectations of the product
- Environmental impact – how much resources (e.g., water, energy, greenhouse gases) were used to produce the product, what is the environmental footprint of the product throughout its life cycle (e.g., emissions during transportation)
Thinking ahead, manufacturers should be ready to provide this information to consumers in an easily understood way. Now is the time to determine whether this information is available to manufacturers on a product-by-product basis and if the manufacturer is satisfied with the current raw materials and production processes, expected product performance, and environmental impact of its products. If not, now is the time to change.