New ITU standards project to define a sustainability passport for digital products

Sustainable digital technology. Sustainable digital technology.

A new ITU standard is under development to describe the information that a sustainability passport for digital products should contain to support consumers, industry and government in applying the principles of circular economy.

The project is underway in ITU’s standardization expert group for ‘environment and circular economy’, ITU-T Study Group 5.

Circular economy can be described as extending a product’s lifespan over multiple lifecycles or increasing the value delivered by a product over its lifespan. Supporting the shift towards circular economy is a key priority for ITU-T Study Group 5, with e-waste now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream.

Experts see considerable potential for a sustainability passport to provide an instrument to help manage e-waste in a sustainable way, on a global scale – e-waste often crosses borders, and often to developing countries ill-equipped to manage a growing e-waste burden.

Our national passports describe our attributes at birth but also record where we have travelled. Should a sustainability passport for digital products be the same?

“Digital products have one set of attributes at manufacture, but these attributes can change over time as products are upgraded, recycled or resold,” highlights the standard’s Editor and Co-Rapporteur for the responsible working group (Q7/5), Leandro Navarro of Spain’s Colegio Oficial Ingenieros de Telecomunicación.

The new standard aims to define the requirements and semantics necessary to represent information relevant to circular product lifecycles. Its development will consider the inclusion of information available at the time of manufacture as well as dynamic information representing changes to product attributes over product lifecycles.

“We need verifiable data to support us in assessing the extent to which we are achieving principles of circular economy and our ambition to achieve net zero emissions,” explains Leandro. “There is currently no international agreement on the product information required to facilitate and achieve circularity in the digital technology industry.”

Clarifying the necessary information could help to put theory into practice, highlights Leandro, making an example of ITU L.1023, an international standard outlining an assessment method for circular scoring.

“Verifiable, machine-readable information could enable automatic comparisons of product attributes relevant to circularity,” says Leandro. "And with the required degree of interoperability, all stakeholders and systems could make use of this information."

The project is led by ITU-T Study Group 5’s working group on ‘e-waste, circular economy and sustainable supply chain management’ (Q7/5). For more information, contact the secretariat of ITU-T Study Group 5 at tsbsg5@itu.int.