Supporting the changing sustainability standards in Europe
Supporting the European Commission’s product environmental footprint (PEF) initiative, PRé served as technical helpdesk and trainers for the pilot phase of four and a half years, gaining valuable experience in complex alignment projects.
A project like the Environmental Footprint initiative, which aims to transform and simplify Europe’s approach to sustainability through large-scale methodological reform, needs to invest in long-term, international change. Its pilot phase contained 26 pilot projects in a wide range of products and sectors. To support this sea-change in sustainability standards across Europe, PRé was part of the technical helpdesk that provided technical support, training, online working space and much more. This sharpened our consultants’ experience with metrics reviews, methodology development and industry alignment in large-scale, highly diverse international projects – an experience that they will bring forward to aid other pioneering organizations in developing metrics and KPIs and getting on board with the changing sustainability standards in Europe and around the world, such as the PEF.
Any company interested in circulating or promoting a product with environmental advantages in the European market is confronted with an overwhelming offer of methods and initiatives to comply with. Several countries have their own methodology and communication standards. To help people see through this overwhelm, the European Commission (EC) published a communication on Building the Single Market for Green Products (2013), aiming to facilitate better information on the environmental performance of products and organizations in Europe. With this initiative, the EC proposed two life cycle assessment (LCA) methods to assess the environmental footprint of products (product environmental footprint – PEF) and organizations (organizational environmental footprint – OEF).
The initiative included a pilot phase of four and a half years with multiple objectives:
- To set up and validate the rules at product category level (PEFCR) and at the level of an organization or sector (OEFSR). These rules were developed and tested by 26 pilot groups (from now on referred to as ‘pilots’).
- To test the communication of life-cycle-based environmental performance information to different target audiences, and to test different methods of verification.
- To explore solutions for practical challenges, such as access to and quality of life cycle data, cost-effective verification methods, and communication. PRé was selected to act as the technical helpdesk for the pilot phase, in partnership with Ecofys and RDC Environment – a task that lasted from October 2013 to April 2017.
As part of the technical helpdesk, PRé’s role was manifold.
Technical assistance to the pilots
8 out of the 26 pilots were allocated to PRé for technical assistance. To be able to fulfill this task, we needed to be knowledgeable of the developments and the latest changes in the Commission’s guidance document and be available to answer a wide range of technical questions.
Technical assistance to the European Commission
For topics that raised a lot of questions, we collaborated with the Commission to develop helicopter and technical issue papers (where rules are described) and helicopter papers (where the implementation of the rules by the pilots was evaluated), to be used in the guidance document. Examples include papers on the use stage and biodiversity. Additionally, we co-chaired three workshops for the refinement of the Circular Footprint Formula (CFF).
PRé coordinated and trained the organizations volunteering for the pilots. At the start of the pilot phase, we provided face-to-face training about the general PEF and OEF methodologies. To facilitate the implementation of draft PEFCRs/OEFSRs for specific companies, we gave specific face-to-face training focused on specific PEFCRs/ OEFSRs. Additionally, we held 13 webinars on topics such as the representative product, the functional unit, data and quality requirements and development of EF-compliant datasets. The pilot phase was concluded with the development of 3 e-learning courses for footwear, intermediate paper products and retail delivered in three languages.
Online working space
To facilitate the exchange of minutes, draft documents, review comments and other kinds of information, PRé developed and maintained a web workspace. This so-called wiki was used intensively by members from all groups of the governance model: the European Commission, the Steering Committee, the Technical Advisory Board (TAB), pilot technical secretariats (TS), cross-cutting working groups and stakeholders.
Evaluation of the pilot phase in terms of content
At the end of the pilot phase, we put together an overall evaluation of the content of the pilot phase. The findings of the evaluation were structured around four success factors, set by the EC:
- pilots managed to complete the PEFCR/OEFSR;
- the methodology demonstrably works in any value chain;
- simplification compared to conventional LCA;
- reduced costs for companies for environmental analysis (compared to LCA).
- Expert assistance and access to expert knowledge – Through the technical helpdesk, pilots could address their technical questions to experienced LCA practitioners who were well-informed about the ongoing developments in the pilot phase.
- Optimal information exchange and support – The online working space we developed was a great tool for the exchange of information with stakeholders, which can be applied elsewhere as well. This optimized the development process of PEFCRs and OEFSRs and created support.
- Increased understanding and alignment with guidance – The general and specific training provided by the technical helpdesk clarified the rules and guidance for the pilots and enabled them to complete the pilot phase. This improved the development process of PEFCRs and OEFSRs and smoothed the alignment with the Commission’s guidance. Now the pilot phase is concluded, e-learning materials are especially useful for new actors. Our consultants are fully trained in how to introduce the PEFCRs and OEFSRs to others.