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Life cycle assessment

We continue to develop the use of life cycle assessment (LCA) to help us meet customer demand for products with enhanced environmental characteristics including materials, components and technologies. Analyzing a select number of products in great detail using LCA helps us understand the complexities of product environmental impacts.

LCA covers materials extraction, manufacturing, product use (energy consumption, supplies, media), end-of-life management and transport between all phases. An LCA may evaluate hundreds to thousands of material and process flows across multiple categories of environmental impact, such as global warming potential and depletion of natural resources.

HP has applied LCA thinking and tools in our design process for more than a decade and has published several LCAs focused on printing supplies since 1996. In early 2008, HP launched a program to promote LCA more broadly within HP, initially concentrating on printing equipment and processes. We use LCA tools to:

  • Model and assess material and packaging choices
  • Understand the potential of alternative technologies
  • Develop tools to calculate product carbon emissions
  • Assess which components and materials contribute the highest life cycle environmental impacts
  • Support design for recycling assessments

Currently, the main focus of our LCA work is on product carbon footprinting—the contribution to climate change of a product over its life cycle. For example, HP conducted an LCA on an Officejet Pro inkjet all-in-one printer in 2008. The results highlight the extent to which paper use is the most significant contributor to climate change over the printer life cycle. This aligns with findings of independent research1 across printer segments, which found that paper has the most significant climate change impact in all segments except personal inkjet printers. HP offers a range of products, software and services to improve printing efficiency and reduce paper waste, and HP sells paper produced from sustainable sources. These products, software and services make a significant contribution to cutting emissions from printing.

We are using LCA findings to develop metrics that help product designers compare alternative options and produce products with improved environmental performance across their life cycle. We already provide Carbon Footprint Calculators so that users can compare the greenhouse gas emissions from energy consumption during product use.

In 2009, we extended our LCA work, comparing a Scitex FB7500 flatbed signage printer with a competitive screen printer. We plan to publish on HP’s website and in an external journal the peer-reviewed results—the first published LCA of comparative signage printing. The LCA demonstrates that digital printing on the Scitex FB7500 has a lower potential environmental footprint in terms of human health, ecosystem quality, climate change and resource impact categories than a conventional screen printer for print volumes less than 100 signs (see graph.)2 The advantage stems from reduced media losses and ink waste in digital signage printers. Conventional screen printers typically waste materials in setting up (known as “make ready”).

Comparative life cycle impacts of a digital signage printer and a screen printer (printing 20 signs)*
life cycle graphic
  Human health Ecosystem quality Climate Change Resources
yellow HP Scitex FB7500
orange Generic screen (LL)
red Generic screen (HL)
* LL and HL refer to screen printer Low Loss and High Loss during start-up. Low Loss assumes three signs lost from waste and High Loss assumes 40 signs lost from waste. This is the typical range of losses for the industry. Start-up losses result from media and ink waste associated with setting up inter-color registration for multicolor signs and achieving correct color gamut.

External collaboration

Making carbon footprinting useful for our customers requires a single, worldwide methodology based on internationally recognized standards. We are working with other industry leaders and third-party organizations to develop standards and methodologies to assess broader supply chain emissions and estimate product carbon footprints. Organizations and initiatives HP is actively participating in include:

  • Founder-level membership in the Sustainability Consortium, which will create transparent data, proxies and methods to enable quantification of the sustainability performance of retail products.
  • An environmental assessment methodology that uses product attributes to allow for relative benchmarking of ICT products, working with MIT, ENERGY STAR® and Carbon Trust.
  • The environmental group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop an assessment methodology for potential IT-enabled low carbon solutions.
  • GHG Protocol standard development for Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting.
  • GHG Protocol standard development for Scope 3 Corporate Accounting and Reporting.
  • The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) Eco-Impact Evaluator for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Equipment project. This project aims to provide a simplified means of determining the key environmental impacts and improvement opportunities of ICT products across the life cycle.
  1. 1 Stobbe, Lutz, et al. “EuP Preparatory Studies ‘Imaging Equipment’ (Lot 4)” Task 1 though 8 Final Reports. Fraunhofer IZM. Berlin, Germany, 2007–2008.
  2. 2 The comparison was conducted for 4-color, 46””x46” Coroplast point-of-purchase (POP) signage in the United States, and may not be relevant for all scenarios. The results are sensitive to printer speed and media losses.