Just imagine what it will mean when, every time you purchase any product, there is a label that allows the comparison of a product’s environmental footprint to the environmental footprint of similar products.
If you ever wondered, for example, about how sustainable your favorite organic peanut butter is compared to conventional peanut butter, now you’ll be able to immediately know the difference in impact on the environment with a simple labeling system on every jar in the grocery store. And imagine that this kind of labeling will be required on everything, regardless of whether it is an end consumer (business-to-consumer) or in the supply chain (business-to-business). This labeling is likely to affect your personal and business life, from textiles to cars to electronics to chemicals to building materials.
The European Commission is well underway developing a product labeling system whose requirements will reverberate throughout the world. Roughly set for completion in 2022, the commission is estimated to finish its Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) process for the development of a comprehensive labeling system for all products sold within the European Union.
The PEF is a multicriteria measure of the Environmental Performance of a product throughout its life cycle. The ultimate purpose of PEF is to inform consumers through environmental declarations and the associated certification of products. In order to ensure comparability, the European Commission needed specific rules for different product groups, so industry developed the PEF Category Rules (PEFCRs) in close consultation with the commission. PEFCRs are used as strict rules for framing the creation of a PEF for products that fall within each product group.
In assessing how to create a universally comparable product life cycle standard, the European Commission decided that sector-related standards were not good enough. In 2011, the commission published “The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe,” which further strengthened and clarified the role of PEF, integrating life cycle assessment into politics, policies, programs and ultimately regulations. PEF is the European Commission’s answer to Grenelle II, a French initiative to take more concrete measures toward solving environmental issues. Along with PEF, the European Commission created the Organizational Environmental Footprint (OEF), which will trace the environmental impact of corporations and other organizations.
There are three phases of PEF: The Pilot Phase, Transition Phase and Implementation Phase. Currently, the European Commission is in the Transition Phase. During the Transition Phase, organizations can create new PEFCR’s and/or a PEF for their products using the PEF Guide and with assistance from Sphera, assigned by the European Commission to help in the PEF-creation process.
The experience and knowledge obtained during the Pilot Phase is now being evaluated and consolidated into methods for practical application. Part of the reason Sphera was successful in its bid with the European Commission was because its databases were already in conformity with PEF indicators, and Sphera has extensive PEF and Life Cycle Assessment experience.
Why Should Your Business Care About PEF?
Companies unprepared to tackle PEF risk falling behind in the labeling process that is on the near horizon for products sold within European Union countries. Preparing a Product Environmental Footprint ahead of other businesses in your industry will allow your company to succeed sustainably during the 2020s when the European Union is likely to implement these policies.
Since PEF labeling will allow for the comparison of similar products within your industry, getting ahead of the curve to make sure you have the most sustainable product environmental footprint you can will go a long way in future-proofing your license to operate in the coming decades. Learn more about PEF.
Hannes Partl is a principal consultant for sustainability at Sphera.