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LCA, EPD, and PEF: What are the differences?

Do you want to take steps towards sustainability as a company? A good first step is determining the environmental impact of your products and production process. In the article below, we'll walk you through three ways to assess and communicate this impact.

Do you want to take steps towards sustainability as a company? For instance, because customers are increasingly demanding sustainable products? Or because your organisation wants to contribute to a more sustainable future? Or perhaps you've noticed that sustainability is an important theme among your staff?

A good first step is determining the environmental impact of your products and production process. In the article below, we'll walk you through three ways to assess and communicate this impact.

Explaining LCA, EPD, and PEF

In this article, we discuss Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), and Product Environmental Footprint (PEF). All three methods assess and communicate the environmental impact of your product or organisation, and they are interconnected. However, they each have their own approach and end product, providing different insights and applications. We outline the differences and similarities for you below.

LCA (Life Cycle Assessment)

An LCA is an internationally recognized systematic method to evaluate the environmental impact of a product, process, or service throughout its entire life cycle. The procedure is defined in ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. An LCA considers the entire life cycle of a product: from raw material extraction, production, assembly, use, waste, and all transportation between these stages. This is known as a cradle-to-grave approach.  And an LCA evaluates energy consumption, emissions to air, water and soil, waste generation, use of natural resources, and other environmental impact categories. Besides the product level, an CA can also be conducted at the level of your entire organisation (or any level in between).

With an LCA, you gain a holistic view of your product's environmental impact and the ability to compare different products. On the product level, you can identify where your product has the highest environmental impact (known as a hotspot). This helps you determine where you can most effectively make improvements, such as in your production process. For example, if it's found that most of the impact arises from energy consumption during production, you could decide to switch to green energy. This way, you can significantly enhance the sustainability of your product. Learn more about LCA's in our LCA beginners guide.

EPD (Environmental Product Declaration)

As a follow-up to an LCA, you can choose to create an EPD. This might be because a customer requests it, or if you want to register your product in an EPD database. An LCA report sometimes contains sensitive information, such as product composition or supplier details. An EPD is a standardized document describing the LCA results for a specific product without revealing this sensitive information. The EPD standard is outlined in ISO 14025.

Additionally, depending on the product, country or region, and/or the database where the EPD will be registered, specific product category rules need to be followed. These are called 'product category rules' (PCRs). These PCRs are developed by ISO standard committees, industry associations, experts, and/or the organisation managing the EPD database. For most EPD databases, an EPD also needs to be verified by an independent third party.

An EPD database collects EPDs from a particular sector. This database allows customers or other stakeholders to access the EPD for a specific product. This enables informed decisions based on the environmental aspects of a product. An example of an EPD database is the National Environmental Database (for the construction sector in the Netherlands). Learn more about EPD here.

PEF (Product Environmental Footprint)

PEF is an LCA calculation method developed on behalf of the European Commission. It aims to establish a harmonized method for quantifying and evaluating the environmental impact of products. It is expected that PEF will eventually be linked to new EU legislation and requirements as the calculation standard. This could include transparency requirements at the product level, like the Digital Product Passport (part of ESPR) and the Green Claims Initiative.

The European Commission began developing such a harmonized method for calculating the environmental impact of both products and organisations as early as 2010. The goal of PEF is to provide a common foundation for environmental assessments and labeling across the European Union.

Through PEF, the European Union aims to promote more environmentally friendly production and consumption. Companies can benchmark their product's performance within their sector or product category more easily when everyone follows the same calculation rules. This benchmarking allows better understanding of how their environmental performance compares to that of competitors. Learn more about PEF here.

Choosing the Right Approach for your Organisation

The method you choose depends entirely on the purpose for which you want to gather the insights into the environmental impact.

In summary, we can say the following about the three methods:

  • LCA is the comprehensive term for an in-depth and extensive life cycle analysis that can cover both individual products and entire organisations.
  • EPD is standardized and transparent, providing a summary of the LCA results for a product in a document excluding sensitive information.
  • PEF is a new LCA calculation method aimed at harmonizing environmental assessments within the EU. PEF is expected to replace current LCA calculation methods in the coming years.

Take a look at "our work" to get an idea of which method other organisations have chosen and the insights it provided them.

If you're interested in assessing the impact of your product(s), we're happy to advise you on the most suitable method.

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