What’s next for Product Environmental Footprints (PEF)

What’s next for Product Environmental Footprints (PEF)
21 November 2018

What’s next for Product Environmental Footprints (PEF)

You might be thinking ‘never mind what’s next; what is PEF?’ Well, the Product Environmental Footprint and its sister initiative, the Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF), were launched by the European Commission in 2013 to collate the ~400 ecolabelling initiatives across the continent. Like Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), PEFs report on a product’s (or organisation’s, for OEF) environmental impacts over its entire lifetime. Since its inception, significant work has been undertaken to set-up pilot programmes, agree reporting rules and, crucially, define a benchmark for product categories. Last week I travelled to Brussels to attend the International EPD System’s annual conference to learn what the next steps are for the PEF initiative.

How are PEFs different?

If you are familiar with life cycle assessments and EPDs (if you’re not, read some of my previous blogs to find out what these are and the benefits they confer) you will know that these assessments are flexible in the sense that you can define the system boundary for your study and are not restricted by the supporting datasets you may use. While this makes these studies more accessible and less onerous to undertake, it does create some problems when it comes to comparability.

PEFs aim to overcome this problem by requiring the use of: one dataset, which details specific processes for specific steps in a life cycle; one impact assessment method; and one mandatory end of life formula. Through this rigidity, the PEF is able to develop a representative product for each category rule. This representative product details the environmental indicators that materially matter for that product and sets a benchmark for reporting. This is a big departure from traditional LCA.

What’s next?

There are 12 pilot PEF Category Rules that set instructions for undertaking PEF assessments and define a representative product benchmark, and we are now in the transition phase before the possible adoption of policies.

Attending the conference, I was curious to understand whether a policy step was around the corner and what the advice would be to producers in these pilot areas, many of whom already produce EPDs. The answer is that we will not see policy any time soon, but we will gradually see alignment through consensus.
In his keynote presentation, Michele Galatola, Environmental Footprint Team Leader, European Commission - DG Environment, outlined that PEFs had arisen to combat the proliferation of green labels and that the Commission had chosen to develop its own methodology to provide greater credibility. He stated that “PEF should not become a label” in his view but be used as a calculation method, which in time could be used to produce a communication vehicle like an EPD.

I think this is very interesting and indicative of how this initiative will progress. The Commission is currently working with CEN to update EN15804, in part to bring it in line with the PEF’s end of life assessment. EN15804 is a key standard for construction EPDs, which do not currently have to specify end of life within their system boundary. A significant proportion of the EPD work we carry out at Ricardo is producing EN15804-compliant EPDs for clients wishing to score points in schemes such as BREEAM and LEED. While PEF policy may not be on the immediate horizon, it is still relevant and an updated EN15804 will see us using it sooner rather than later.

While the above is interesting, I think the most telling indication of where LCAs, EPDs and PEFs are heading came from one of the business representatives presenting at the conference. In his presentation on Heineken’s involvement in the beer PEF Category Rule (PEFCR), Paul Bruijn stated that the beer PEFCR was a global standard that delivered agreement across the brewers.

PEFCRs require 50% of the market to be represented in the development process. By design they require stakeholder consensus. My advice to clients within the 12 categories covered by PEFCRs would be to consider this methodology when undertaking sustainability assessments and setting standards. Other presentations given at the conference added to the flavour of cumulative alignment, highlighting how PEF-compliant EPDs can help to deliver Sustainable Development Goals. While there may not yet be any regulation mandating PEFs, it appears that any future policy is more likely to build on their methodology than start from scratch.

To understand more about how PEFs, Life Cycle Assessment or EPDs can benefit your business now and into the future get in touch: [email protected]