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The EU’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Methodology for Environmental Impact Assessment

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Biocode

Climate Observer

The European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is a method for assessing the environmental impacts of products consistently. The methodology is based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which considers the environmental impacts of a product at every stage of its life cycle. Impacts occur from the production of raw materials through transportation, processing, resale, and use to waste management (from cradle to grave).

In addition to PEF, there is also OEF (Organizational Environmental Footprint), a method for assessing an organization’s environmental impacts.

PEF Objectives

The main objective of the initiative is to reduce the environmental impacts of products throughout their life cycle. It aims to standardize and harmonize the assessment of different products’ environmental impacts, facilitating, for example, product comparison from an environmental responsibility perspective.

Before PEF, there were many different methods for measuring the environmental impacts of products, making the data incomparable. One of PEF’s main purposes is to provide a standardized assessment and communication method. The draft of the EU’s Green Claims Directive also references PEF-compliant environmental impact assessment.

PEF’s ultimate goal is to develop an assessment method that enables reliable and comparable communication of products’ environmental footprints to consumers. Environmental responsibility could be reflected, for example, on labels or online stores, enabling consumers to make more responsible purchasing decisions.

Subgroups and Product Categories (PEFCR)

PEF categorizes products into eight subgroups:

  1. Clothing and footwear
  2. Beverages
  3. Chemical end products
  4. Construction products
  5. Electrical and electronic products
  6. Food products (including non-human consumption products)
  7. Materials and intermediates
  8. Energy production and transmission

Under these groupings, there are different product category rules (PEFCR). There are a total of 19 PEFCR guidelines listed here.

As you may notice, the category guidelines do not cover nearly all product categories. If your product does not fit into any existing category, you can use the general guidelines of PEF and adapt PEFCR as applicable.

PEFCR for Food Products

The pilot phase of product categories from 2013 to 2018 included 25 pilot products for which category rules and harmonized emission factor databases were to be developed. Of these pilots, 19 were published, seven of which are relevant in the food and agriculture sector:

  1. Dairy products
  2. Beer
  3. Wine
  4. Pasta
  5. Pet food
  6. Bottled water
  7. Livestock feed

Find the specific instructions for food sector

PEF Environmental Footprint – Method & Database

Method

The environmental impact assessment method according to PEF includes new standardized rules for product life cycle assessment. Experts have updated the PEF method over the years, and the current version in use is 3.0.

The method is still in a transitional phase, which is expected to end in 2024. Therefore, the use of PEF methods is not yet mandatory.

Database

The intention of the PEF database is to support measuring environmental footprints. A ready-made, consistent database facilitates impact assessment by providing secondary data for use in LCA.

However, PEF does not compel the use of its database alone; you can also use other secondary data sources, such as Biocode or Ecoinvent. Additionally, the PEF database is incomplete and not yet in version 3.0.


Environmental Impact Categories in PEF Methodology

PEF environmental impacts are divided into 16 impact categories:

  1. Climate change
  2. Ozone depletion
  3. Human toxicity (cancer)
  4. Human toxicity (non-cancer)
  5. Ionizing radiation (human health)
  6. Particulate emissions
  7. Photochemical ozone formation (human health)
  8. Acidification
  9. Eutrophication (on land)
  10. Eutrophication (in freshwater)
  11. Eutrophication (in marine environments)
  12. Ecotoxicity (freshwater)
  13. Land use
  14. Water use
  15. Resource use (minerals and metals)
  16. Resource use (fossil)

According to PEF, you don’t need to assess all of these impact categories to conduct a trusted environmental assessment. The method guides users in identifying the relevant impact categories for their activities. Calculating impacts is therefore unnecessary for irrelevant impact categories. Additionally, if the information is intended for environmental communication to consumers, use only a limited number of impact categories in communication for clarity.

Environmental footprint

Challenges and Solutions Ahead

Although PEF provides a solid framework for assessing the environmental footprint of products, there are still challenges associated with its utilization. One significant problem is that product-specific PEFCR calculation guidelines have only been created for 19 products. Therefore, conducting a complete PEF-compliant calculation is not yet possible for the majority of products.

In addition to this, PEF sets strict criteria for the quality of the data used. This may pose challenges, for example, in the life cycle assessment of food products, as supply chains are often complex, and primary data may not always be available. PEF has also been criticized for potential inconsistencies with different product category guidelines and ISO standards.

Despite its challenges and shortcomings, PEF provides good general guidance for conducting life cycle assessments and more detailed guidance for specific calculation challenges.

The European Commission is likely to finalize and implement PEF during 2024. Companies wishing to be transparent about the environmental impacts of their products should start preparing now.

Biocode & PEF

To address these challenges, various environmental assessment tools have been developed worldwide. PEF and other LCA guidelines and standards are integrated into several calculators, eliminating the need for companies to spend time learning complex guidelines. Digital solutions also facilitate environmental impact assessment in terms of data collection, calculation, and analysis.

Currently, Biocode allows you to assess the climate impacts of organizations and food products. Our calculator follows PEF’s general guidelines, and we actively develop the software by, for example, adding new life cycle stages and other environmental impact categories beyond carbon footprint.

At present, Biocode’s calculator for primary production allows you to calculate the climate impacts of crop cultivation and broiler production, with plans to add other life cycle models. The built-in life cycle models follow PEF’s general guidelines and PEFCR to the extent that relevant product-specific PEFCR have been published.

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