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The Basics

A Comprehensive Guide to Digital Product Passports

February 06, 2024
A Comprehensive Guide to Digital Product Passports
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A digital product passport (DPP) is a tool for collecting and sharing information throughout a product’s entire lifecycle. A DPP will provide cradle-to-grave data about a product’s provenance, authenticity, sustainability and circularity. The level of information available from a DPP promises to provide new opportunities to improve consumers’ and manufacturers’ ability to promote sustainability and visibility as goods move through the supply chain.

Digital product passports address the increasing demand for trustworthy product information, with an emphasis on sustainability, as the world struggles to address issues such as climate change and uncontrolled waste. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated about the source of products they buy, and more concerned with how their purchasing decisions affect the environment. In many cases, consumers are willing to make a statement by spending their money on products that are manufactured sustainably or using recycled materials.

This article will take a look at the history and development of DPPs. We will discuss the components of a DPP and the underlying technology that supports and makes these innovative devices viable in today's digital economy.



The Genesis of Digital Product Passports


The idea of obtaining cradle-to-grave information on items in the supply chain is not new. It has been an elusive concept due to technical limitations and, in some cases, reluctance by entities to participate in the necessary level of information sharing. DPPs are a manifestation of the convergence of the desire to increase transparency and sustainability with emerging technological solutions and legislative drivers.

The European Union’s (EU) Green Deal is a comprehensive plan to promote sustainable development and growth in member nations. The plan’s goal is to cut carbon emission levels from the 1990s by 55% in 2030. A further goal is to make Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050. Digital product passports represent a major step in promoting these goals.

DPPs are the brainchild of the European Commission (EC) and represent the current increased focus on sustainability in Europe. They were announced as one of multiple initiatives put forth by the EC in March 2022. DPPs are intended to support a circular economy business model in Europe.

The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) came into effect in March 2020. It details the strategy to foster a circular economy with provisions to improve product sustainability, minimize waste, and provide consumers with the information necessary to make informed purchasing decisions. The CEAP contains additional initiatives related to digital product passports.



  • EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles - The goal of this initiative is to improve the circularity of textiles used in clothing, vehicles, and buildings. DPPs will be used to provide consumers with information about the sustainability of textile products.


  • Construction Products Regulation (CPR) - This regulation is designed to ensure that construction products used in Europe conform to safety and environmental standards. The regulation’s framework will facilitate the usage of DPPs.


  • The New EU Battery Regulation - Batteries will be one of the first products to be required to use DPPs. The regulation is meant to promote the sustainability and recyclability of batteries throughout the EU. They are slated to take effect beginning in 2026/2027. DPPs will be key in enacting this regulation and providing consumers with information on battery purchases.


Final specifications and requirements for DPPs are still being finalized. The plan is to target specific industries and early DPP adopters. Batteries, textiles, construction materials, and electronics are the industries that will be required to implement DPPs beginning in 2026.



The Technology Behind Digital Product Passports


DPPs are made possible by leveraging multiple technologies, some of which have only emerged in the last several years. The technology stack supporting DPPs includes the following essential components.

Reliable and secure data storage - Using technologies such as centralized cloud based product databases, distributed ledger technology (DLT) or Blockchain - These serve as a secure and decentralized storage solution for the data contained in DPPs. In the case of blockchain, the integrity of product information is ensured by the immutable way the blockchain saves and stores data. Authentication restricts data access to authorized entities.

Internet of Things (IoT) - The data collection capabilities of the IoT is an essential part of a digital product passport. Devices such as Near Field Communication (NFC), UHF Radio Frequency Identifier (RFID) tags or Wiliot’s ambient IoT Pixels enable a DPP to be updated with real-time information concerning an item’s location, condition, and usage.

Big Data - The analytics associated with big data facilities help identify the important data elements that should be included in a DPP. Organizations can employ big data analytics to improve practices and processes through actionable insights obtained from the information on a DPP.

QR codes - QR codes offer a low cost method of accessing the data on a DPP. Consumer devices such as smartphones and dedicated scanning equipment enable immediate access to a DPP’s wealth of information.

Cloud Computing - The cloud provides the storage and computing infrastructure necessary for the effective use of DPPs. Cloud providers implement robust security, ensuring all data is kept secure and privacy is maintained. Cloud solutions can be integrated with business-critical systems to drive efficient use of DPP data. The scalable nature of cloud platforms enables systems to grow as the volume of DPPs and their data increases.

APIs - The use of application programming interfaces (APIs) facilitates communication between DPPs and diverse software applications that process their data. Real-time updates are supported via APIs to ensure the information on a DPP is current and accurate. An API can be used to strengthen security by encrypting data and providing additional protection against threat actors.


Technology standards affecting DPPs

Adopting technology standards is an essential step in allowing DPPs to reach their full potential. Facilitating effective data transmission is necessary to access the information contained in DPPs. The following are two standards being used to ensure accurate data can be extracted from digital product passports.


  • GS1 Digital Link - GS1 Digital Link turns data carriers such as barcodes and ambient IoT tags into web links. The standard leverages web links to represent rich data sets describing products using standard GS1 elements. These identifiers serve as an easy to access gateway to consumer information that strengthens customer engagement and supply chain traceability.


  • EPCIS 2.0 - EPCIS provides a layered, extensible, and modular framework for creating and sharing supply chain data across diverse applications. It establishes a common web language for supply chain events, capturing what, when, where, why and how these events took place. Adopting this open standard will facilitate the use of DPPs in global supply chains and ensure data interoperability



Components of a Digital Product Passport


One way to look at a DPP is as a repository for multiple types of information regarding a specific product. The wide variety of data elements that can be collected and stored on a DPP includes information in the following five main categories.


Raw material sourcing

Data on raw material sourcing is vitally important as it lays the foundation for DPP’s sustainability initiatives. Consumers and suppliers can steer clear of materials obtained through environmentally destructive practices such as clearcutting tracts of the world’s rainforests.

Information provided on raw materials includes:


  • The deforestation impact of commodities with visibility into farm locations;

  • Data on carbon sequestration and reduction initiatives implemented at the source;

  • Verification that farmers and recyclers were fairly paid throughout the supply chain.


Design

Data on the design of a product helps consumers and manufacturers make better purchasing decisions. Understanding the composition and capabilities of a product is enhanced by including information about:


  • Product durability and expected lifetime to reduce waste associated with throwing items away or replacing them;

  • The energy efficiency of the product when used for its intended purpose;

  • The percentage of recycled materials used in the product.


Manufacturing

Manufacturers can be responsible for a wide range of environmentally-impacting processes. Differences in manufacturing practices may encourage the purchasing decisions made by consumers, suppliers, and retailers. DPPs can contain data regarding manufacturing processes including:


  • Waste of water or other resources in the manufacturing process;

  • Tracking of carbon emissions generated during production;

  • Maintaining an accurate chain of custody over products to share historical data.


Distribution

Product distribution offers multiple opportunities for collecting data that can be used to develop more sustainable practices. Specifically, two components of the supply chain are key to distribution and can be managed more efficiently to promote sustainability.


  • Packaging is essential to protect products as they move through the supply chain. Companies can opt for more environmentally friendly packaging that minimizes the use of plastics or non-recyclable materials. Access to this data in a DPP is essential when making conscientious purchasing decisions.


  • The transportation of products can be responsible for large quantities of carbon emissions. Distribution often involves working with third parties which makes tracking emissions, especially Scope 3 emissions, extremely difficult. Information in a DPP can be used by consumers and suppliers to help reduce emissions by favoring products using more efficient methods of transportation.


Circularity

Circularity is a concept promoting the elimination of waste and the reuse of items whenever possible. It is also concerned with extending the lifetime of products rather than replacing them. Data included in a DPP that addresses circularity includes:


  • Instructions on the proper method of disposal to minimize environmental impacts;

  • Information to promote remanufacturing such as the product’s previous owners, its origin, and usage;

  • Repair and usage instructions to help consumers optimize product durability.


The Role of Digital Product Passports in Supply Chain Management


Implementing a DPP provides multiple benefits in supply chain management. Companies can expect the following advantages from using DPPs in their supply chains.


  • Enhanced transparency and traceability enable manufacturers and retailers to understand how raw materials and finished products move through the supply chain. Companies can analyze this information and use it to reduce their Scope 3 emissions. The effective handling of Scope 3 emissions is essential to the development of operationally sustainable supply chains.


  • Improved sustainability is another benefit of DPPs when deployed in the supply chain. In addition to providing information to control carbon emissions, the data contained in a DPP can be used to minimize waste. Data regarding material reuse or recycling possibilities reduces existing practices such as disposing of usable materials. This minimizes the need to obtain raw materials at the expense of the environment.


  • Greater efficiency is an economic driver that benefits virtually every entity interacting with a supply chain. DPPs promote operational efficiency by providing visibility into items moving through the supply chain. Companies can make informed decisions regarding product movement to minimize transportation costs and maintain inventory at the right level. This can be a driver for more profitability which can underpin the more ultrastic goals for DPPs.


DPPs can be instrumental in supporting circular economy initiatives. A circular economy is an economic system that promotes the reuse and regeneration of products and materials. It is an environmentally friendly approach encouraging practices that increase sustainability and minimize waste. Circular economies are built on these three main principles:


  • Eliminate waste and pollution;

  • Circulate products and materials at their highest value:

  • Regenerate nature whenever possible.


DPPs directly foster the first two principles and can play a major role in enabling enlightened organizations to act in environmentally positive ways to revitalize natural resources.



Implementation Challenges and Solutions


Digital product passports constitute a paradigm shift in the way information is provided on goods to consumers, retailers, and manufacturers. There will be implementation challenges that need to be surmounted before DPPs are legally required in Europe and eventually other jurisdictions around the world.


  • DPPs have to be broadly accepted by manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers to realize their potential in promoting sustainability and efficiency. Supply chain participants have been reluctant to share information about the upstream sources they use in order to protect their profit margins and position in the system, and prevent disintermediation where their customer bypasses them and sources directly from their suppliers. They will have limited viability if large segments of the supply chain refuse to participate. Legislation and regulation can be used to persuade reluctant entities to adopt DPPs.


  • Digital product passports require large amounts of accurate and updated data. It can be challenging to ensure error-free data when multiple products and supply chain partners are involved. Data accuracy is essential to the effective use of DPPs.


  • Deployment costs may hinder DPP deployment for smaller companies with limited budgets. Governments may need to be involved in ensuring fair access to the infrastructure required to support DPPs.


  • Integrating DPPs and their supporting infrastructure with existing IT environments can pose serious challenges. Companies may have to update their IT solutions to obtain the full benefits of DPPs.


  • Adhering to the variety of regulatory requirements concerning data privacy may prove to be one of the most difficult challenges to the efficient use of digital product passports. Provisions will need to be introduced to address the differences in data privacy policies when supply chains cross regulatory borders.


  • Policies and guidelines will need to be developed to protect data privacy and intellectual property. All stakeholders must trust that their data is secure and handled appropriately. Data sharing will require collaboration between organizations that may have different goals and have not worked together in the past.



The Future of Digital Product Passports


Currently, DPPs are in the pre-implementation stages in the EU. Batteries will be the first commodity required to use a DPP starting in 2026 or 2027. Textiles, construction materials, and electronics are also in scope. As issues are resolved with these initial initiatives, more industries and types of commodities will be mandated to deploy DPPs.

Companies that refuse to participate in a DPP environment will struggle with potential legal action as well as negative public relations. Consumers will opt for products that provide supply chain transparency rather than those that maintain obsolete and opaque practices. Citizens will vote with their purses and force acceptance by reluctant organizations.

DPPs will achieve widespread adoption as more industries are incorporated into legislative standards. Ideally, consumers will be able to obtain complete information about a wide range of products including food, clothing, and appliances. Individuals will be empowered to make purchasing and usage decisions tailored to the creation of a more sustainable future.



Legal and Ethical Considerations


DPPs involve the collection, storage, and sharing of large quantities of information. Legal and ethical concerns can be raised depending on the type and sensitivity of the data elements in question. Following are some of the legal and ethical issues that must be considered when implementing DPPs and using the information they make available.


  • Organizations must insist on methods to protect their intellectual property. Data contained on a DPP may inadvertently disclose trade secrets or proprietary manufacturing practices that should not be made available to a wide audience. Maintaining control over intellectual property is key to obtaining wide acceptance of DPPs.


  • DPPs and the IT systems that process their information need to comply with global data protection regulations. This is an extremely complicated problem that has to be addressed for DPPs to provide their expected benefits. A major hurdle to be overcome is the wide variance in data protection laws throughout the world. Conforming to the most stringent regulations such as those of the GDPR may offer them the most effective way of providing data protection.


  • The product data made available from a DPP needs to be used ethically by companies involved in the supply chain. The potential exists for this information to be abused by unscrupulous actors in attempts to mislead consumers or companies. Guidelines should be in place that prohibit inappropriate use of DPP data and can level and enforce penalties against entities that violate the policy.



How to Create and Manage a Digital Product Passport


Companies need to prepare for the implementation of DPPs in their market sector. Creating and managing digital product passports should follow a methodical approach that ensures all relevant information is contained in the DPP. The following steps are appropriate for organizations developing DPPs for their products.


  • Determine the data that will be included in the DPP. This will vary based on the industry in question and needs to address business objectives and provide pertinent consumer information.


  • Identify the data sources that will supply the information throughout the supply chain. Concurrence in data sharing and transmission should be obtained from these sources to ensure information is kept current as a product moves from cradle to grave.


  • Implement the necessary infrastructure to collect, store, analyze, and manage the data efficiently. Leveraging existing environments will reduce the capital expenditures required to successfully implement DPPs.


  • Provide consumers and stakeholders with methods to access the information contained in the DPPs. Effective use of DPPs requires everyone in the supply chain to query the data and make updates where appropriate.


Managing the information contained in a DPP requires a comprehensive data management approach. Diverse types of information regarding the product and suppliers needs to be stored in a centralized data repository that enables it to be managed across domains.

Many platforms are available to help companies streamline the creation of DPPs. Examples include:


  • Wiliot - The company’s ambient IoT Pixels and cloud platform provide a dedicated framework that furnishes the data and management capabilities needed to implement DPPs.


  • 3E Exchange - This company provides software and data solutions that promote sustainability and further the objectives of DPPs.


  • atma.io - This is the cloud based serialization platform offered by Avery Dennison. Avery Dennisson are one of the largest providers of data carriers such as RFID tags, bar codes and Wiliot enabled ambient IoT Pixels that can work with serialization platforms.


  • TrackVision - Is a startup who have built an implementation of a serialization platform that enables interoperability with GS1 Digital Link and EPCIS 2.0 standards.


  • Circularise - The company offers a software solution designed to facilitate the creation of DPPs and ensure compliance with emerging regulations.



Conclusion


Digital product passports represent a significant step towards creating a more transparent and sustainable future. They promise to provide manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers with the information they need to steer commerce in a direction that improves trust, efficiency and sustainability. An effective global implementation of DPPs has the potential to radically effect positive change to further sustainability and address the world’s climate change and waste issues.

Companies need to start preparing for the impact DPPs will have on their business. While the EU is leading the way, other nations and jurisdictions are likely to follow suit when they recognize the benefits to their citizens and businesses. Becoming an early adopter can differentiate a company and give them a substantial competitive edge.

Consumers can expect to gain control regarding the source and sustainability of their purchases. DPPs are at the forefront of a new age in which data is used in an environmentally friendly way to limit waste and encourage more efficient and sustainable practices throughout the supply chain.



Resources and Further Reading


Readers interested in further information regarding digital product passports have many resources available to them. Following is a non-exhaustive list of sources providing detailed information regarding DPPs and the regulations surrounding them.



  • GS1 in Europe - The Digital Product Passport page contains links to information about DPPs as well as the standards and architectures that support them.



  • European Commission - Proposals intended to further the Green Deal including the development of DPPs.


  • Mister Beacon interviews Dominique Guinard, VP of innovation at Digimarc. Recording live from the Sustainable Packaging Summit, Dominique sheds light on the concept of Digital Product Passports (DPP).


FAQ Section


How do digital product passports promote sustainability?

A digital product passport promotes sustainability by providing visibility into the way a product is manufactured and transported from cradle-to-grave. This information enables company decision-makers and consumers to make informed choices that favor sustainability and reduce environmental damage.

Can a digital product passport be falsified?

Without implementing proper data protection measures, a digital product passport can have its information compromised. This is why strong encryption and secure cloud applications are intrinsic parts of the proposed DPP environment.

How will consumers access the information in digital product passports?

Consumers will be able to access digital product passports using their smartphones and tablets using dedicated apps. Businesses will provide apps to make it easier for consumers to get at the data in their DPPs. Eventually, consolidated apps that can read the DPPs from multiple industries will make it easy for everyone to be informed about the sustainability impact of the products they use.