DeltaLCA: Comparative Life-Cycle Assessment for Electronics Design

Zhihan Zhang, Felix Hähnlein, Yuxuan Mei, Zachary Englhardt, Shwetak Patel, Adriana Schulz, Vikram Iyer


Reducing the environmental footprint of electronics and computing devices requires new tools that empower designers to make informed decisions about sustainability during the design process itself. This is not possible with current tools for life cycle assessment (LCA) which require substantial domain expertise and time to evaluate the numerous chips and other components that make up a device. We observe first that informed decision-making does not require absolute metrics and can instead be done by comparing designs. Second, we can use domain-specific heuristics to perform these comparisons. We combine these insights to develop DeltaLCA, an open-source interactive design tool that addresses the dual challenges of automating life cycle inventory generation and data availability by performing comparative analyses of electronics designs. Users can upload standard design files from Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software and the tool will guide them through determining which one has greater carbon footprints. DeltaLCA leverages electronics-specific LCA datasets and heuristics and tries to automatically rank the two designs, prompting users to provide additional information only when necessary. We show through case studies DeltaLCA achieves the same result as evaluating full LCAs, and that it accelerates LCA comparisons from eight expert-hours to a single click for devices with ~30 components, and 15 minutes for more complex devices with ~100 components.