Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) – A Complete Overview

(This blog is updated every time a new PEF update is released) A new term has risen in the field of LCA’s; the Product Environmental Footprint. A new methodology and standard, initiated by the EU, that will steer organizations to perform more reliable environmental measurements and creates a level playing field for everyone. And here’s how it all works.
PEF - woods

The Product Environmental Footprint, also the PEF methodology, is an important initiative from the European Commission. It’s a new and improved method on how companies should measure the environmental performance of any product throughout its Life Cycle (taking into account all the upstream supply chain and downstream activities). The PEF is based on the scientific method for measuring environmental footprints called Life Cycle Assessments (LCA).

The PEF outlines an improved common framework for all the steps and specific rules that are necessary to make an appropriate and comparable Life Cycle Assessment. Its mission is to strengthen the (European) market for green alternatives and ensure that environmental impacts are transparently assessed and, in the end, of course; reduced

In short: the PEF is great news. Here’s why.

More Validity & Comparability in Footprints

The PEF being a single LCA method used by everyone- helps improve the validity and comparability of the environmental performance evaluation of EU member states and the private sector. Especially compared to the existing methods.

Having this new organisational standard in environmental impact measurements will tackle greenwashing and false sustainability claims. Motivating companies to stay on the ‘right sustainability path’- and helping consumers recognise to what extent a product, company, or service is environmentally friendly. 

Man in supermarket

The PEF isn’t mandatory yet

The PEF methodology is still in progress and in the so-called ‘transition phase’ (pilot phase). This transition phase is planned to be completed by the end of 2024. This means that using the PEF isn’t mandatory yet.

The European Commission is still further developing the details for the PEF Product Category Rules (also PEFCR’s or PCR’s) in order to finalise the PEF methodology developments. These category rules will define footprint measurement rules specific to industries.

Only for the European construction sector, has the PEF already resulted in some mandatory changes in LCA’s. This is due to the PEF norm EN15804+A2. Read more on these changes here.

At Ecochain we implement the PEF database changes into our tools with every new update. Construction companies can already report according to the EN15804+A2 in our software. Currently, one of the first finished PCR’s is the one for the Dutch asphalt sector, which was made in collaboration with Ecochain and market leaders (read more here).

Explaining the PEF: Methodology + Database

The Product Environmental Footprint exists out of two components;

(1) The PEF methodology;

(2) The PEF database. 

The methodology includes new cohesive rules for performing LCA’s in line with the EU’s Green Deal and Taxonomy. Currently, we have reached the 3.0 version of PEF methodology. The main difference with the previous versions is that some environmental impact categories have been divided into new subcategories

The PEF database is meant to support the PEF methodology and create a new standard environmental database for the European industries. With the PEF impact database, the EU hopes to create a more complete database to use in LCA’s. The PEF methodology doesn’t need to be used solely with the PEF database. It’s also possible to mix the methodology with the biggest database for environmental data Ecoinvent.

Although we reached the 3.0 version of the PEF methodology, the PEF database hasn’t reached version 3.0 yet. This is still a work in progress. 

The PEF Product Category Rules (PEFCR)

The PEF Product Category Rules (PEFCR) are Product Environmental Footprint rules specific to different product groups/categories. These Category Rules standardise how LCA’s of product in one product group are conducted. They are created voluntarily in collaboration with market leaders and LCA professionals (minimum 50% of the market should be involved). Although the European Commission is still developing the details of the PEF, companies can already develop PEFCR’s with these guidelines

The PEF Category Rules are very useful, as they enable comparisons- or even ratings- in environmental performance of similar products. It’s the standardisation we were all looking for. 

Organisational Environmental Footprint – OEF

Of course, it doesn’t end here. Next to the PEF, there is also the OEF. The OEF stands for Organisational Environmental Footprint

The OEF was created to reduce the organisational environmental impacts associated with organisational activities. Taking into account the supply chain activities (from raw material extraction to production-and use, to the final management of waste).

It measures the environmental performances of goods- or service-providing organisations (businesses, administrative entities, non-profit organisations) from a life cycle perspective. 

“Calculating the OEF does not require that all individual products of the Organisation be analysed. The OEF is calculated using aggregate data representing the flows of resources and wastes that cross the defined Organisational boundary. Once the OEF is calculated, however, it may be disaggregated to the product level using appropriate allocation keys.”

Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF) Guide, 2010.  

white windmill during daytime

PEF & LCA’s: What’s the difference?

A lot of great abbreviations, we know. But we’re almost there. 

The PEF methodology is very similar to a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and the common LCA calculation can be used for the PEF calculations.

Just like LCA’s, PEF is science-based, clear, and quantifies all the environmental impacts over the entire life cycle of your products. This includes your product’s emissions to water, air, and soil, resource use and depletion, the impact of land and water usage, etc.

However:

  • PEF will be more stringent in its rules than a ‘normal’ LCA, due to it being a single method and the specificity of the PEF Category Rules as explained above.
  • The PEF method and its database offers comparability, and is suitable for benchmarking products in the same product groups. 

Are you ready for the PEF?

The PEF will most likely be finalised, launched, and implemented in 2024 and will have a significant impact on many businesses. It creates a level playing field with standard environmental measurement rules for everyone. And answers the demand for product impact transparency.  

Are you prepared?

Any questions regarding the PEF and how Ecochain can help you? Don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Published

December 1, 2020

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Author

Zazala Quist

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Zazala Quist

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