Life cycle assessment (LCA) analyses have helped HP to improve our product designs and processes, and we continue to use LCA to help us better evaluate life cycle environmental impacts. For example, based on LCA results as well as potential savings, we have improved the material yield and lowered the energy and water use over time in our cartridge recycling process by disassembling cartridges instead of shredding them.

LCA evaluates hundreds or even thousands of material and process flows, across life cycle stages from materials extraction, manufacturing, and transport to product use (including energy consumption, supplies, and media) and end-of-life management. This approach helps us understand the complexity of product environmental impacts and consider an extensive set of environmental issues, such as potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and natural resource depletion.

Specifically, LCA enables us to:

  • Model and assess material, packaging, and technology choices to help reduce environmental impact.
  • Develop tools to estimate product GHG emissions.
  • Assess which processes, components, and materials contribute the most significant environmental impacts and prioritize these for reduction.
  • Develop metrics that help product designers compare alternative design options.
  • Support design for recycling.

HP has applied LCA thinking and tools in our design process for more than a decade, as well as published several LCAs focused on print cartridges since 1996. We provide the HP Carbon Footprint Calculator for PCs and printers that enable users to compare the estimated GHG emissions from energy consumption during product use. However, the energy consumption and GHG emissions from the use phase are only part of the total impact. Therefore, during the last two years we have participated in the development of product carbon footprinting methodology for the information and communications technology (ICT) industry to advance our understanding of GHG emissions across the entire life cycle. (See below.)

LCA for printing technologies

In 2010, we carried out or commissioned several LCAs on imaging and printing products and print cartridge recycling:

  • Digital vs. offset printing At the economic break-even point of just under 1000 brochures (where the overall cost of each process is the same), printing an eight-page, letter-sized, double-sided brochure on an HP Indigo 7000 Digital Press can result in a reduction of up to 30% in potential GHG emissions compared with products that use offset printing technology. The Indigo press demonstrated lower potential emissions when printing up to 3000 brochures (see graph).1

Relationship of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions to printing volume


  • Digital vs. offset book publishing Taking into account both manufacturing and distribution, a shift from offset book printing to digital printing can reduce the potential life cycle carbon footprint by up to 20% for a high-volume "best-seller" title, and up to 25% for a lower-volume "classic" title. The results are driven by a reduction in waste due to lower over-printing rates of books with the print-on-demand capability of digital printing.
  • Digital retail photo finishing vs. silver halide In Europe, HP digital retail photo finishing products were found to perform better than the traditional silver halide products described in the study on 9 of the 12 indicators measured—most notably, energy use and carbon footprint. HP products in this category used up to 26% less energy over the lifetime of the HP product, with an estimated carbon footprint that is up to 33% smaller. For the other three indicators, the impacts of the HP products and the silver halide products described in the study were found to be equivalent.
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE) banner vs. PVC for outdoor uses, such as billboards HP HDPE products reduce the life cycle carbon footprint of banner printing by up to two-thirds.2
  • Recycled vs. virgin plastic used in manufacturing Original HP ink cartridges The recycled plastic used in HP ink cartridges produced beginning in 2010 is estimated to reduce total water used in plastics production by up to 89%, compared with production of virgin plastic. And it has an estimated carbon footprint up to 33% smaller than the virgin plastic used in Original HP ink cartridges—even when accounting for the impact associated with collecting, transporting, and processing used cartridges and plastic bottles.3

We plan to carry out several additional LCAs on HP printers in 2011.

Developing processes for transparent LCA

Making product carbon footprinting results useful for our customers requires a universally accepted methodology based on open, transparent, and internationally recognized standards. We are working with other industry leaders and third-party organizations to develop such standards and methodologies to assess broader supply chain GHG emissions and estimate product carbon footprints related to information technology (IT) equipment, as well as to develop a customer-relevant product environmental reporting scheme.

To help customers understand the environmental impacts of the products they are purchasing, HP is collaborating with retailers, manufacturers, academia, governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) through The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) to understand the total life cycle environmental impacts of our products. Throughout 2010, TSC researched and documented the environmental impacts of notebook PCs. In 2011, the TSC team will expand this research to include other electronic products. Using life cycle environmental impacts, including those documented by TSC, HP is working with industry, retailers, and others to develop and pilot a consumer-facing reporting scheme initially for notebooks, then expanding to desktops, monitors, and eventually smartphones and printers.

We are also collaborating with several universities, including Arizona State and MIT, as well as other organizations, to identify and analyze the processes and components that contribute to the carbon footprint of a notebook PC. The purpose of the project, known as Product Attribute to Impact Algorithm (PAIA), is to develop a credible, transparent, and streamlined methodology for estimating the carbon footprint of IT products—initially for notebooks, and ultimately for all computing products. We plan to extend the methodology to our printing and imaging products as well.

HP also contributed to and worked with the following initiatives and organizations in 2010:

  • A carbon footprint standard being developed through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
  • GHG protocol standard development for the Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard (see for more information).
  • The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) Eco-Impact Evaluator for ICT Equipment Project. This project provided a simplified means of determining the key environmental impacts and improvement opportunities of ICT products across the life cycle, and plans to develop a simplified tool for use by designers.
  1. 1 A specialist consultancy conducted this analysis and independent experts provided critical review.
  2. 2 Calculation by the HP IPG Environmental Technology Platform Team (and confirmed by an independent environmental life cycle assessment firm), based on the activities associated with the manufacturing of the product, and comparing 180 g/m2 (5.5-ounce) HP HDPE Reinforced Banner with 440 g/m2 (13-ounce) HP Outdoor Frontlit Scrim Banner using the Swiss Centre for Life Cycle Inventories ecoinvent 2.0 database and model IPCC 2007 version 1.01; primarily for the category of PVC/PET/HDPE, and measuring materials extraction, transportation to the manufacturing site, and GHG emissions generated during manufacturing.
  3. 3 A 2010 life cycle assessment (LCA) performed by Four Elements Consulting, LLC and commissioned by HP. The study compared the environmental impact of using polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic with the environmental impact of using recycled polyethylene terephthalate (RPET) plastic to manufacture new Original HP cartridges.