A brief on the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint Guide

The European Commission released the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Guide in April, 2013, along with the Organizational Environmental Footprint (OEF) Guide, under the premise of the “Single Market for Green Products Initiative.” The objective is to support a single metric for a single market, thus enhancing transparency and fair competition.

The ultimate aim is to provide incentives to report and reduce environmental impacts. The release of the PEF Guide comes at a time when:

  • Two-thirds of the world’s ecosystems are in decline
  • Biodiversity is being lost at 100 times the rate of natural extinction
  • Widespread proliferation of national and sectorial initiatives for product footprinting utilize differing rules and standards
  • Lack of common definition for what a green product is
  • Unnecessary costs are accrued due to the need to comply with different sustainability standards and guides across different geographies and industry sectors
  • Obstacles block the free movement of products marketed as green, across geographies
  • Widespread consumer distrust in green claims is evident, but demand for greener products has not diminished
  • Environmental and economic benefits of green products are proven and align with the principles of sustainable consumption and production

The PEF Guide is part of the European Commission’s Communication to the Council and the Parliament. The Commission also recommends member states and industry adopt the Guide. The Commission’s actions are part of a larger recommendation toward sustainable consumption and production by the United Nations, and the Commission itself. The PEF Guide was developed using a harmonized approach, building on existing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)-based product claim standards, such as ISO 14025, PAS 2050, BP X30-323, GHG Protocol, etc., and LCA standards and guides, such as ISO 14040, ISO 14044, and ILCD Handbook.

Why the pilot could be attractive

Companies and many other stakeholders are yearning for a well-established and broadly-accepted footprinting methodology. This need was evidenced by the attention and success of the GHG Protocol development. Additionally, EU footprinting is similar to sustainability assessments currently being conducted by both The Sustainability Consortium and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. For the PEF, the EU will offer some free support (via a helpdesk) to develop such a standard in a particular product category. This system will provide proactive industry associations with the opportunity to road test the development of a product category rule, while also being able to influence and give feedback to the overall program structure. The EU is therefore worried that the demand will be larger than what it can handle. Interested industry associations and companies should be prepared to apply with a well-formulated, robust proposal if they wish to be chosen for the pilot study.

Additionally, while this program is European focused, many multi-national companies are choosing to track the developments of the PEF/OEF, even if they are not directly participating in the pilot or headquartered in Europe, because of the global nature of our economy. If the EC’s program is successful, companies will need to understand the footprinting process and produce life cycle-based assessments of their products, and those that are prepared to respond will avoid falling behind the competition.

Mark Goedkoop


When I established PRé in 1990 I ran a design consultancy, then I decided to do ecodesign. But, how do I tell the good from the bad? And how can I measure ‘eco’? So I started on a journey together with a few pioneers in the emerging LCA scene and gave up designing. I realized then that these same questions need to be answered by any company embarking on the route to more sustainable products and services, preferably in a scientific, honest, and businesslike way. Providing good transparent tools, data, and methodologies to empower organizations to make the transition to sustainability, that is my drive.

Renée Morin

Senior Advisor

Renée Morin opened the North American office of PRé in 2011, serving as President of PRé's North American team. She lead the team to create unique life-cycle-based solutions in diverse industries, from solar energy, to chemicals. Renée worked at PRé from 2011, until 2015.

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