The EU Commission’s policies
In 2008, the European Commission (EU COM) published its Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production, including various proposals for a number of tools such as: Ecolabel, Energy Label, Ecodesign, Retail Forum, and others. This was followed in September 2011, by the launch by the EU COM of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap and in April 2013, by the communication on Building the Single Market for Green Products - Facilitating better information on the environmental performance of products and organisations”. An integral element of all these policies is a method for measuring the environmental footprint of products using a life-cycle assessment methodology.
Read more on the background to the EU COM’s policy.
Calculating the environmental footprint
The European Commission developed with the Joint Research Centre a harmonised methodology for the calculation of a product environmental footprint. The methodology is based on the life-cycle assessment technique and the International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) handbook. It also includes other existing standards and guidance documents, such as ISO 14040-44, PAS 2050, BP X30, WRI/WBCSD GHG Protocol. In total, 14 different impact categories are assessed through the methodology.
Testing the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method
With the main objective to reduce the overall environmental footprint of products, aim of the PEF initiative was to test this methodology (over the period 2013-2016, prolonged till 2018/19) with specific product sectors, in order to develop workable product category rules (PEFCRs), test verification objectives and different options for communicating the information to consumers.
An environmental footprint for detergents - pilot project by A.I.S.E.
Committed to the overall objective of this initiative, i.e. the reduction of the overall footprint of products, A.I.S.E. initiated in 2014 its PEF pilot on heavy duty liquid laundry detergents for machine applications jointly with the European Commission and various stakeholders. Partners participating in the project included the companies Dalli, Ecover, Henkel, McBride, P&G, Unilever, Vandeputte, the national industry associations AFISE (France) and DETIC (Belgium), the LCA consultant company Solinnen, and the external organisations CESIO, Global Standards 1, SGS, the Sustainability Consortium, the Swiss Government Federal Department of the Environment and the Technical University in Berlin.
Outcome of the PEF analysis has confirmed the use phase as the most relevant life cycle phase; impact of other phases is considerably smaller. The pilot formally ended in February 2019 with the publication of the A.I.S.E. PEF Category Rules (PEFCR). These are product category-specific, life-cycle-based rules that complement general methodological guidance for PEF studies by providing further specification at the level of a specific product category. The purpose of the PEFCRs is to shift the focus towards those aspects and parameters that matter the most and should contribute to reproducibility and consistency based on comprehensive requirements defined by the European Commission.
A.I.S.E.’s main learnings from this pilot project are that the EF (Environmental Footprint) method is essentially moving in the right direction, since it is intended to evaluate and reduce the environmental footprint of products, based on a European-wide harmonised and transparent LCA-based approach. However, while it certainly has some potential mid-to long-term, it is in its present stage of development not yet sufficiently mature to enable accurate product comparisons, since LCA science is still evolving; consequently, limitations do apply. It is due to these limitations that A.I.S.E. has published, together with its PEFCR, guidance for industry members on the most appropriate use of these category rules (see link above). Several impact assessment methods, including the proposed USETox model to assess human toxicity and ecotoxicity are not yet ready for comparative, detailed assessment at product level or for in-market communication, but can be used to screen, prioritise and steer internal product ecodesign.