The journey to more sustainable passports

Last updated: 11 July 2024

When we think about the carbon footprint associated with traveling abroad, we naturally focus on the modes of transportation we use. However, there is another aspect of international travel that contributes to our environmental impact: our passports. 

These documents tucked away in our draws may seem small and unassuming, but with millions of passports being produced each year, as a whole, they consume a surprising amount of resources. 

Significant progress is being made to produce more eco-friendly passports. However, more can be done to improve passport sustainability throughout its life cycle, from development to end of life management. But first… 

Understanding the environmental challenges of passport production 

Before any work can be done to make passports more sustainable, we need to understand the scale of the problem.  

The most obvious place to start is with the materials passports are made of. Plastic (in particular polycarbonate), ink and microchips all rely on fossil fuel-based raw materials – but that’s not the whole story. There are many more factors that contribute to the carbon footprint of a passport, including transportation, energy use, waste management and more.  

The graphic below from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol shows some of the hidden impacts that we need to consider when evaluating the sustainability of passports: 

  • Scope 1 includes all direct emissions from an organization’s activities, and those under its control. This includes fuel combustion on site, such as gas boilers, fleet vehicles etc.
  • Scope 2 includes indirect emissions generated by the production of purchased electricity, heating and cooling.
  • Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions from the activities of the organization, occurring from sources that it does not own or control, such as purchased goods and services, material freight, employee travel, transportation and distribution etc.

With the scale of the problem understood, the most impactful and immediate first step must be to minimise the usage of fossil fuels.

Steps towards more eco-friendly passports

At Thales, through our Low Carbon Ambition, we’ve committed to reducing the direct CO2 emissions in the production of passports by 50% by 2030, compared to 2018 figures. For indirect CO2 emissions, we’ve committed to a reduction of 15% in the same period.

To reach this target, from 2024 we will be producing certified polycarbonate at all our factories around the world. Certified polycarbonates are a mix of renewable materials, such as waste from the paper and wood industries, and conventional materials. Passports with 100% certified polycarbonate can achieve a 30% to 50% reduction in the carbon footprint of the data page.In the future This is a way of recycling polycarbonate products, such as bottles or electronic device casings, and making new polycarbonate products. By 2026, our plan is for the Thales portfolio to include documents with a minimum of 30% recycled material.

You can read more about Thales’ eco-friendly initiatives in this whitepaper on improving the environmental credentials of identity documents.

Collaborating with the wider industry

Passport production is a complex business, with numerous suppliers and providers involved in the design and creation of these highly secure documents.

To achieve our goal of lowering our environmental impact, we need to collaborate effectively. This requires having constructive dialogue and pushing one another to improve. Across the identity ecosystem, stakeholders should be willing to share and learn from responsible best practices.

One of the areas that requires collective attention is the need to identify a plastic that does not rely on fossil fuel-based raw materials. There is a huge workload involved in identifying and qualifying the material, so it will require the group effort of several industry stakeholders, including suppliers, Universities and Research & Development teams.

We must also look at adding some straightforward requirements to tenders to make sure partners are equally committed to the cause. This could, for example, include requesting renewable electricity sourcing or asking bidders to demonstrate how they engage with suppliers on ESG topics.

Finally, we must address end of life document management including retrieving, transporting and disposing of documents in a secure manner. This challenge varies from country to country depending on materials and recycling capabilities. However, the main concern is always to prevent the misuse of expired passports for illegal purposes.

Sustainability is an ongoing, collective journey that requires persistence and collaboration, yet the rewards are significant. Incremental improvements made throughout the passport life cycle will accumulate into significant reductions – support governmental and organisational climate goals.

Along with our partners, we are committed to exploring innovative solutions and minimising environmental impact. Learn more about our strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of identity documents here.

 

 

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