Environmental footprint transition phase: what is happening now that the EF pilot phase is finished?

The pilot phase of the Environmental Footprinting Initiative is over. What’s next? The period before any policies regarding product and organization environmental footprinting are adopted is a transition phase, with a focus on monitoring implementation and getting new developments started.

The start of the EF transition phase

In April 2018, the Environmental Footprint pilot phase concluded with a final conference in Brussels with the title “From vision to action”. That conference analyzed the Environmental Footprint journey during the pilot phase, but it also explored potential future applications for the product environmental footprint (PEF) and organization environmental footprint (OEF) methods.

This included looking at their use in the wider EU policy context. The European Commission (EC) just communicated the European Green Deal. It seems they are planning to take some serious measures regarding sustainability, with the environmental footprint methods the designated metrics for this purpose.

The period between the end of the EF pilot phase and the possible adoption of policies has been designated a transition phase. The transition phase is coordinated by the European Commission’s DG GROW in addition to DG ENV, which had previously been involved. This means that in the view of the EC environmental footprinting has now outgrown the academic arena and has become a growth market.

Timeline of the Environmental Footprint initiative

The main objectives of the transition phase are to provide a framework for monitoring the implementation of existing PEF category rules and OEF sector rules (PEFCRs and OEFSRs), developing new ones, and doing other methodological developments. It is also an excellent time for companies to get ahead and implement PEF and OEF metrics in their own business processes. That way, you will be prepared for the policy requirements that are coming soon.

New projects started

Several sectors sent in applications to develop new PEFCRs, five of which were selected:

  • Apparel (including accessories, dresses, hosiery, underwear, leggings/ tights, base layers, jacket, jersey, pants, shirts, skirt, socks, sweater and cardigans, swimwear, t-shirt, boots, cleats, court, dress shoes/heels, other athletic shoes, sandals and sneakers)
  • Cut flowers and potted plants
  • Flexible packaging (with low, medium and high functionality)
  • Synthetic turf
  • Marine fish (wild-caught marine fish and marine fish from marine open-net pen aquaculture)

PRé is very happy to be supporting two of these, namely the PEFCR projects for synthetic turf products and for cut flowers and potted plants. The latter is especially familiar to us: it brings the work we did in the HortiFootprint project in full alignment with the EU’s PEF rules.

There has also been interest in doing a full revision of some of the PEFCRs and OEFSRs approved during the pilot phase. Since the secondary datasets used for PEFCRs and OEFSRs are only valid until the end of 2021, a revision would guarantee longer validity of the PEFCRs and OEFSRs. Another transition phase option is the integration of shadow pilots, which cover PEFCRs and OEFSRs developed outside the pilot phase.

Methodological developments

The transition phase projects will use the JRC reports on the PEF method and on the OEF method as their methodological basis. These methods include updates from developments and the lessons learned during the pilot phase.

Two working groups are looking into further methodological updates:

  • Data working group (DWG)
  • Agricultural modeling working group (AWG).

Data working group… for those fond of technical details

The DWG aims to create a collaborative framework for future developments around EF needs, specifically to enhance the coordination between and communication with data developers and LCA software providers.

The DWG’s topics are:

  • developments in the EF reference package (which contains all the reference database items for the EF framework, such as elementary flows, flow properties and units)
  • data generation in the EF framework.

We highlight the following milestones of the DWG:

  • Exchange of life cycle models across software (building on the work already done during the Remodeling project)
  • A set of minimum requirements to be fulfilled by a software to be “EF ready”

From PRé, my colleagues Katarzyna Cenian and Rutger Schurgers are part of the DWG.

Agricultural modeling working group

The goal of the AWG is to facilitate the discussion among agricultural life cycle experts on agriculture-related topics. It also aims to update the EF methods to align with best practices and knowledge available today.

The AWG expects to work on:

  • Improving the inventory modeling of pesticide application
  • Exploring if the inventory modeling of fertilizer applications can be improved
  • Identifying a common approach to model flows or direct emissions related to feed digestion and manure management (animal/fish) on farms
  • Providing detailed guidelines for inventory modeling of water use
  • Assessing different approaches to measuring biodiversity impacts (which goes beyond the scope of agriculture activities alone) and deriving recommendations on how to complement or improve the current EF impact indicators in this area
  • Providing mandatory primary data collection and quality requirements for farm related activities, in line with the data requirements of the EF methods.

I am participating in this working group myself, because it has an obvious connection to the PEFCR project on cut flowers and potted plants that we are supporting and also connects to many other projects we do in the agri-food sector.

How long will it take and what can you expect

The transition phase is expected to last until the end of 2022. However, policy action is already starting now, with the release of the European Green Deal. Stay tuned for more information around that in a future article.

Meanwhile, I recommend you to start testing the PEF and OEF methods. This will increase your awareness and understanding about the environmental footprint performance of your products or organization and will show you where to focus to further improve it.

Learn more

  • Do you already know you want to get started with PEF/OEF? Take a look at our PEF training.
  • Would you like to know how else we can support your PEF-related activities? Please contact Marisa Vieira.

Marisa Vieira

Director of Solutions

The time of the industrial revolution is over. Now it is time for the green revolution to go full steam ahead! Everybody needs to be involved in this process, therefore I aim to guide individuals and businesses in understanding the trade-offs between impacts. This will help them make informed decisions, which will truly help sustainable living thrive."

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