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What is the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)?
Blog...What is the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)?

What is the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)?

Legislation & Standards
The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) aims to assess the environmental impacts of our products throughout their lifecycle.

Even with the best intentions, it can be complicated to 'buy sustainably' – meaning to prioritize products that are part of a sustainable development approach. While financial considerations often come into play, the lack of information should not be overlooked either.

How can we contribute to the development of a green economy if we are completely unaware of the environmental impact of our products?

Moreover, this is not only true for individuals: today, many companies are trying to source more ecologically. And if we want them to reduce their carbon footprint as quickly as possible, it is necessary that information about the environmental impact of our products becomes easily accessible and comparable.

This is the whole purpose of the Product Environmental Footprint (or PEF). Here's an explanation.

What is the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)?

Developed in the context of the 'Single Market for Green Products' initiative (SMGP), the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is an initiative of the European Commission. It aims to assess the environmental impacts of our products throughout their lifecycle.

Indeed, it is essential to remember that the environmental impact of a product is not confined to its production. From the extraction of raw materials to its 'end of life', every product is responsible for the emission of various greenhouse gases (GHGs). This is why it is essential to enable everyone to understand this overall impact, which is only partially visible to end consumers. In practice, the PEF aims to harmonize methods related to the assessment of the environmental impact of our products. Again, it is about making this information easy to read on a large scale - in this case, on the European Union’s scale.

The implementation of the Product Environmental Footprint would provide a consistent framework for the assessment and communication of sustainability information.

👉 Note: the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is not a regulation and is not mandatory. It is more of a methodology. However, it can be referenced by specific regulations or initiatives.

NB: The PEF is often presented as the counterpart to the OEF (Organization Environmental Footprint). Complementary, these two approaches can effectively be used to accurately assess the environmental performance of each company.

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Principle and Methodology of the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)

The Principle of the PEF: Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)

The principle of the PEF is based on that of the LCA. In concrete terms, the study of the Product Environmental Footprint of a given product relies on the analysis of the environmental impacts associated with its life cycle.

Life Cycle Analysis is far from a rough estimation. It is a method strictly framed by the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards. To learn more about this, feel free to read our detailed article.

As a reminder, the LCA meticulously examines each stage of a product's life cycle, specifically:

  • The extraction, supply, and processing of raw materials;
  • Manufacturing, assembling, packaging, or construction;
  • The distribution and marketing of the finished product;
  • Unpacking, using, and maintaining;
  • End of life, collection, transport, recycling, waste treatment, etc.

Note: If your company does not have the necessary internal expertise, we strongly recommend using the services of an expert.

The Methodology of the PEF

The Stages

A PEF study is carried out in 3 stages:

  • Define the objective and scope of the study;
  • Conduct the life cycle analysis;
  • Compile the report related to the Product Environmental Footprint. Before starting the study, as in any LCA, it is necessary to determine the functional unit, which is the unit of measure used to perform comparisons. This must take into account the product's lifespan, frequency of use, and performance.

👉 For more details, feel free to consult our dedicated article.

The Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR)

What are the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules?

The Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (or PEFCR) are a set of rules and guidelines specific to a product category (such as clothing, food products, electronic products, etc.). These rules and guidelines are valuable because they provide guidance on how to conduct a PEF assessment for a given category.

At the same time, they aim to bring all players in a given market to produce assessments that are easily comparable. In short, the PEFCR contribute to three objectives:

  • Reproducibility;
  • Consistency;
  • Relevance. Note: In the case of the OEF, it is the OEFSR that specifies the general method, providing sector-specific guidance.

How are the PEFCR developed?

The PEFCR are developed based on what is called a "representative product" (RP). This is the average product sold on the market (within the European Union). Concretely, this product is considered representative of the category of products under study. Naturally, the representative product can be real or virtual.

The environmental performance of the representative product is the reference against which the environmental performance of other products will be compared. 

Information provided by the PEFCR

The PEFCR provide various types of information, including:

  • A detailed description of the product category;
  • A list of environmental indicators to consider;
  • Typical scenarios of product use and end-of-life;
  • The types of data necessary for the assessment;
  • The methods and tools to use for conducting the study.
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Understanding the PEF Score

At the end of the study, a PEF score is assigned to the concerned product. To assign this score, the results of the impact study are translated through 16 indicators:

  • Climate change;
  • Fine particulate matter;
  • Depletion of water resources;
  • Depletion of non-renewable energy resources;
  • Land use;
  • Depletion of non-renewable mineral resources;
  • Depletion of the ozone layer;
  • Acidification;
  • Ionizing radiation;
  • Photochemical ozone formation;
  • Terrestrial eutrophication;
  • Marine eutrophication;
  • Freshwater eutrophication;
  • Carcinogenic human toxicity;
  • Freshwater ecotoxicity;
  • Non-carcinogenic human toxicity.

Each of these 16 indicators contributes to the final score by a predetermined percentage. For your information, climate change is the heaviest in the balance (21% of the final PEF score).

Should you communicate your PEF score to your stakeholders?

Communicating your PEF score is recommended, as it contributes to the collective effort towards establishing more transparency in our society. While some companies will undertake this effort altruistically and in the name of their values, others will do so for more marketing purposes, to improve their brand image. However, in a way, this doesn't really matter.

What matters today is that everyone finds their own motivation to invest in the ecological transition of our society. Where some will thus contribute to rallying other companies inspired by their ideals, others will encourage their competitors to join in to remain competitive.

Be careful: while communicating the status of your PEF score is certainly a good thing, it is preferable not to take this initiative lightly. Many companies are severely criticized following approximate communication campaigns about their environmental impact. Unfortunately, whether it is a mere blunder or deliberate greenwashing, the result is the same: the company's image is tarnished - not to mention the legal proceedings that can now ensue.

Conclusion? We recommend communicating about your PEF score, but not before having carefully prepared your discourse.

How to Communicate About Your Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Score?

Seek advice from an expert in carbon accounting or LCA. The idea is not to dictate your speech, but to ensure that you use the right terms and do not oversell your approach.

Some good advice (to be adapted according to your own situation):

  • Be transparent and provide complete information about the methodology used to assess your PEF;
  • Use simple language that you understand (or make sure you understand the technical jargon you use);
  • Contextualize your PEF score and show how it helps you develop a relevant and sustainable transition plan;
  • Highlight the benefits that your customers gain from your initiative;
  • Engage in dialogue and educate your stakeholders by encouraging them to ask questions;
  • Train your teams and ensure they are able to properly present this PEF score to an interlocutor. 

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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