What's brewing in Europe: EPDs & PEFs
What’s brewing on the European front?
Global Environmental Policy 101: Europe likes to lead by example and sometimes succeeds.
That’s why wanting to stay one step ahead in sustainability means keeping an eye on the European front and take anticipatory measures. See:
the successive, aggressive, UN-mediated pushes for worldwide climate change curbing 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 has made its way, in some form or another, to Australia and has got people’s and corporation’s ears perked up;
Environmental Product Declarations, which albeit not EU-stamped, became a popular cross-sector environmental certification there before being adopted in Australasia (as far as an environmental certification can be deemed popular, but that’s another discussion).
So, what’s the buzz?
What should the Australian LCA community be looking out for? The answer seems to be Product Environmental Footprints (PEFs). The EU’s very own approach to footprinting was launched within the Single Market for Green Products Initiative. (As often, the term “green” means transparent, not impact-lean. Yet another discussion.)
The basic principle of PEFs seems all too similar to that of EPDs: an LCA-based framework to measure the environmental performance of products, guided by product type-specific sets of rules, which in turn are based on wider-scope norm(s). The program includes organizational footprints as well. The dream is to assess and compare products being traded and organizations trading in Member States on equal, standardized grounds with the blessing of the European Commission. The chimera is for the world to unite under one approach to product and organizational footprinting.
The PEF is now in its pilot stage. Since 2013, the EU’s DG Environment and Join Research Centre have been the testing and development of the PEF methodology in collaboration relevant stakeholders such as companies, industry governing bodies and sustainability professionals.
The set of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR, the equivalent to the EPD’s PCR) to be launched first seems to focus on consumer goods, reflecting the industry and corporate actors participating in the pilot project.
The pilot stage is expected to end sometime this year, and it’s not clear 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 the 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 need to jump on board.
EPDs and PEFs: is the continent big enough for both?
According to the official blog of the International EPD programme, the evolution of the PEF Guideline might come to influence the future of 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 outcomes of the pilot stage are divulged. Until then, EPDs will remain a robust LCA-based environmental certification that is globally recognized.
Those interested in learning more about PEFs should enrol in the 20 September ALCAS Webinar: Carbon Storage in Product Environment Footprint