There’s a new product environmental footprint method in town: PEF. Already back in 2010, the European Commission started with the development of a harmonised methodology for calculating the environmental impact of both products and organisations. In this blog, we focus on describing the Product Environmental Footprint: PEF in short.
The PEF method
The aim of the EU is to develop a common way to create product footprints. This resulted in two methods; the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and the Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF), which together fall under the EU Environmental Footprint (EF) methods. They have been developed based on existing and widely used methods, standards and guidelines, such as the International Life Cycle Reference Database Handbook, ISO 14040-44, ISO 14064, PAS 2050, WRI/WBCSD, GHG protocol and others.
The PEF methodology is a new product footprint method to calculate the environmental footprint of products. It does so by measuring the environmental performance of a good throughout its entire life cycle. The PEF category rules describe a common outline of how to perform such measurements by stating all steps and rules needed to make appropriate calculations.
Besides the methodology, the PEF also provides a database. This database was developed to support the PEF method and functions as a new standard environmental database for the EU industries.
The objective of PEF
Currently, there are (too) many methods to measure the environmental footprint of your product. This creates confusion in the market. The abundance of different methods and the increasing importance of environmental footprinting demands a level playing field.
Methods are generally diverging on several issues or leave some methodological choices open for the user. This means that it’s not possible to compare the results of measurements using different methods.
Therefore, PEF’s ultimate goal is to stimulate a stronger market for green alternatives and ensure transparent assessments of environmental impacts. The aim of this EF method is to
‘establish a common methodological approach to enable Member States and the private sector to assess, display and benchmark the environmental products, services, and companies based on a comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts over the life-cycle’ (JRC, 2012).
This should help companies to calculate their environmental performance based on reliable, verifiable and comparable information and for other actors such as NGOs to have access to this information.
PEF and LCA
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the method that forms the basis of PEF. The reason is that LCA focuses on all life cycle stages of a product. Furthermore, it also identifies other important environmental indicators besides just CO2.
The advantage of the LCA approach is that it takes a holistic view at the product and at the value chain and avoids possible burden shifting to other life cycle stages. LCA looks at product phases like production, transport, use, and end of life. Moreover, it enables companies to identify “hotspots”.
These are elements in the life cycle that contribute most to the environmental impact. This again enables companies to actively and knowingly intervene strategically, i.e. through the design of their products, to make sure that the hotspots are reduced.
Where some methods focus on a single environmental indicator (CO2), LCA takes into account several other relevant environmental indicators. Again this prevents burden shifting; what might be reducing your carbon footprint, might have a large impact on water use for example.
What PEF means for your company
Next to a calculation method and a database, PEF also focuses on general rules for specific product groups. The PEF Product Category Rules (PEF-PCR) entail specific rules related to different industries. These rules enable PEF studies which are more reproducible, comparable and verifiable, if these studies have all been conducted based on the same PEF-PCR. Examples of PEF-PCR’s already being developed are Food and Textile.
Companies are able to easily benchmark the performance of their product within their sector or product category. This benchmark allows for a better understanding on how their environmental performance is in comparison to their competitors.
Benchmarking your product is a strong reputational incentive. Sustainability increasingly plays an important role for consumers when buying a product. Hence, for many companies, being a good environmental performer improves business values and strategy. Product category and sector benchmarks stimulate product improvements and have the potential of making products of the whole sector or product category more sustainable.
It enables consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions. This is achieved by the ability to compare the performance of products in the same product category. Products now have one uniform label – based on the same method – which allows for one on one comparison.