European sustainability is now talking about PEFs – but what are they?

PEFsLike a cool friend, Europe is often the continent setting the sustainability agenda. PEFs, Product Environmental Footprints, are a new development, now joining EPDs as a pinnacle assessment of sustainability – but how are they different and should we adopt the approach?

Global Environmental Policy 101: Europe likes to lead by example and sometimes succeeds

Many of the recent significant global sustainability developments originated in Europe, so staying abreast of latest developments in sustainability means watching the European front and taking anticipatory measures. See:

  • The successive, aggressive, UN-mediated pushes to curb climate change worldwide, coming from a continent that’s responsible for only 14% of our global emission budget;
  • the Modern Slavery Act (of the Parliament of the United Kingdom) from 2015, which is making its way to Australia and has got people’s and corporation’s attention;
  • Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), albeit not EU-stamped, became a popular cross-sector environmental certification there before being adopted in Australasia.

So, what’s the latest?

The answer seems to be Product Environmental Footprints (PEFs). This approach to footprinting was launched within the EU’s Single Market for Green Products Initiative.

The basic principle of PEFs is similar to that of EPDs, but the program includes organisation environmental footprints (OEPs) as well.

The goal is to assess and compare products being traded and organisations trading in member states on equal, standardised grounds with the blessing of the European Commission.

The chimera is for the world to unite under one approach to product and organisational footprinting.

PEFs: What’s going to happen next?

The PEF pilot stage is expected to end in 2017. Since 2013, the EU’s Joint Research Centre has been testing and developing the PEF methodology in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including companies, industry governing bodies and sustainability professionals. The immediate focus is mostly on consumer goods, reflecting the industry and corporate actors participating in the pilot project.

It’s unclear what’s going to happen next.

  • PEFs could become a point of product-level competition, used also by retailers in procurement criteria.
  • The format of compliance schemes seems to be under consideration.
  • If it becomes a matter of compliance or at least competitive advantage, it is likely that ripples will be felt across the world as well. Australasian companies with an eye on the European market or keen to stay one step ahead in mandatory and voluntary environmental credentials, might want to jump on board.

EPDs and PEFs: is the continent big enough for both?

According to the International EPD programme’s official blog, the evolution of the PEF Guide might eventually influence the EPD General Programme Instructions.

Whether or not EPDs and PEFs will be aligned (and what alignment consists of) will depend on the level of compliance of PEFs with relevant standards. We’ll know more once the pilot stage ends and its outcomes are divulged.

Until then, EPDs will remain a robust LCA-based environmental certification that is globally recognised.

Watch this space.

A version of this article was first published on the ALCAS website.

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