Information and communications technologies (ICT) have revolutionized the way we communicate, collaborate and work. Now, they’re emerging as a critical tool for slashing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by helping companies and consumers consume energy in a more intelligent and efficient way. While ICT is being used to shape smarter cities, transportation systems, industrial processes and more, the industry is also a net source of GHG emissions.
As a result, the ICT industry is coming under increasing pressure to disclose information about the environmental impacts of its products through eco-labeling initiatives such as EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), institutional RFPs, and consumer pressure.
Given the number of products and the rapid pace of product change-over in the ICT industry, companies face unique challenges when it comes to disclosure. Harnessing a collaborative, sector-wide approach, the Product Attributes to Impact Algorithm (PAIA) platform — a joint initiative of MIT and Quantis — is creating effective solutions, tools and an easy-to-use platform to streamline environmental footprints for ICT products and reducing the time and cost of doing so. PAIA delivers three key components: a streamlined methodology for ICT product footprinting, a suite of simplified online tools, and a multi-stakeholder consortium of ICT companies.
Paving a collective path to a sustainable future for ICT
The PAIA concept and methodology was launched in 2009 by MIT with the aim of developing tools to perform quantitative analysis of the environmental footprint of ICT products with more efficiency, lower costs and greater consistency. MIT later approached Quantis to help operationalize the methodology and develop tools for business. Over the last decade, PAIA has grown to encompass a suite of product category-specific tools to calculate the carbon footprints of ICT products, understand major drivers of impact and allow users to identify the relative performance of impact reduction strategies.
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The methodology is accepted by the French National Commitment for the Environment, also referred to as the “Grenelle II Law,” for measuring and demonstrating products’ energy-CO2 performance, and can also be used to meet EPEAT - IEEE 1680.1 and CDP reporting criteria.
Taking PAIA from concept and methodology to operational web tool
Previously housed within Excel, PAIA has relaunched on a new web-based platform that allows users to effortlessly perform comprehensive environmental assessments of their products at minimal cost. This means that users can quickly produce the kinds of information their stakeholders are demanding, such as product carbon and energy impacts.
User inputs are nominal compared to a full LCA and default options based on existing life cycle inventory (LCI) data are available where company-specific data is not readily accessible, saving the user considerable time and effort in data collection without compromising on the quality or robustness of the final footprint.
At the heart of PAIA is a pre-competitive consortium of diverse industry stakeholders ranging from suppliers to original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and industry associations with sector-specific insight and a vested interest in driving sector-wide transformation. The consortium and its members, including Cisco, Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, HP Inc., and Lenovo, play a key role in ensuring the relevance and efficiency of the platform and its tools by defining and prioritizing pressing industry pain points, enhancing data, staying on top of legislation and sharing best practices.
Delving deeper into the PAIA tool and methodology
The cornerstone of PAIA is a robust, metrics-based methodology rooted in a dynamic life-cycle approach and shaped by the common challenges and explicit needs of the ICT sector. Drawing on existing LCI data, it maps product attributes (e.g. size of screen or hard drive) with a high environmental impact (i.e. PCBs) or those important to stakeholders, to a product’s carbon and energy impact. Models are constructed for all of the important materials and processes used in the manufacture of a given product and are then built into an algorithm encompassing the product family as a whole. The output allows users to get a reasonable estimate of the carbon environmental impact with an understanding of the uncertainty contained within the results.
This approach has been integrated into a suite of product-specific tools developed in conjunction with a diverse group of sector-specific actors. The data derived from these tools can be used to create roadmaps for improvement, by informing internal design for environment (DfE) efforts, guiding decision-making around materials selection and systems optimization, as well as providing new perspective for supply chain management. It can also be used to quantify supply chain GHG emissions and track reduction efforts. This information can be leveraged for communicating credibly about sustainability programs. Lenovo and Dell currently use PAIA to publicly report product footprint data for their products in information sheets and annual reports, while HP, Inc. uses PAIA to improve its EPEAT scoring and disclose its Scope 3 results for CDP reporting.
Tools have already been developed for notebook, desktop, display, all-in-one, thin client, server, storage and networking products. Tools are constantly evolving to improve functionality and accuracy and are now integrated into a new web-based platform.
Going further, faster, together
PAIA derives its strength not just from the power of its methodology and tools, but from the global consortium behind it. Comprised of key sector stakeholders, the PAIA consortium steers the direction of the initiative, ensuring that the development of new tools and functionalities meet evolving industry pain points, priorities and needs. By bringing together diverse actors from across the value chain, the initiative fosters sector-wide alignment to create the ideal conditions for driving meaningful long-term change on a large scale.
The platform also facilitates interaction between industry peers and provides a forum to share experiences, best practices and learnings. Each month, members have the opportunity to discuss the latest environmental legislation, set new priorities and share best practices for reporting PAIA results.
The advantages and benefits of this approach are not confined solely to the ICT sector. There is untapped potential in other sectors to leverage pre-competitive initiatives and targeted tools to tackle pressing environmental and regulatory challenges. The Sustainable Packaging Initiative for CosmEtics (SPICE) offers another example of a successful attempt to address a sector-wide challenge through a collaborative approach. Co-founded by Quantis and L’Oréal, the initiative brings together beauty brands from across the globe to work towards the common goal of driving sustainable packaging innovation within the cosmetics industry.
Looking to the future
Dynamic by nature, PAIA will continue to evolve alongside sector needs as well as external pressures and demands. The platform is currently being expanded to include impact categories beyond carbon, such as water, in order to offer a more holistic view on product hotspots and opportunities for improvement. The PAIA is also undergoing review to align with PEF, the draft European standard for product footprinting.
To learn more about PAIA and how to become a member or about the power of pre-competitive initiatives, contact Senior Sustainability Consultant Annabelle Stamm.