Unification of environmental methods and initiatives
If a company wants to promote its products in different markets as eco-friendly, it is confronted with a variety of different methods and initiatives. For this reason, the European Union is working on the development and implementation of an environmental footprint for products and companies. The conference from April 23-25 is the end of the 2013 to 2017 ongoing pilot phase, in which 280 voluntary companies participated.
What was the trigger?
Within Europe there are only a few transnational standards for eco-friendly products. Companies are often producing for different countries and have to comply with other regulations in Germany than, for example, in other countries in Europe This is not only confusing, but also causes costs, in the case of companies who want to comply with the different standards Consumers are also unsettled by various labels. Because of the lack of information, they often doubt the informative value of labels and find only limited help for their decisions. To address these issues, the European Union has been working on a common standard, based on the Footprint concept.
The Footprint Concept – capturing the whole environment
The concept of the footprint used to calculate and illustrate all the environmental impact caused by goods, individuals, businesses and countries goes back to Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees. They developed the ecological footprint in 1994. The footprint stands for the area that is necessary to enable a person’s lifestyle permanently. This includes, among other things, the space needed for the production of food, for the provision of energy, but also for disposal or the binding of released emissions.
PEF and OEF in Detail
Based on the Wackernagel footprint concept, the EU developed two methods to measure environmental impact. On the one hand the “Product Environmental Footprint” and on the other the “Organization Environmental Footprint“. These were tested by volunteers during a four-year pilot phase. During development, existing standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative, the CDP Water Footprint or emission calculations after the Greenhouse Gas Protocol were taken into account.
The two methods are based on a Life Cycle Assessments (LCA). LCA considers the direct and indirect impacts of products or organizations on the environment. Here, the entire lifecycle is considered. In the case of the methods developed by the EU, 14 categories are considered: climate change; ozone depletion; human toxicity (cancer effects); human toxicity (non-cancer effects); particulate matter/respiratory inorganics; ionising radiation; photochemical ozone formation; cidification; eutrophication (terrestrial); eutrophication (aquatic); ecotoxicity (freshwater aquatic); land use; resource depletion (water); resource depletion (mineral and fossil fuel).
The rating of companies based on their footprint is not totally new. In 2003, Wackernagel founded the Global Footprint Network, an NGO with the goal of creating a sustainable world. The idea of labeling products with an environmental friendly footprint is in general beneficial, as consumers can have a bigger picture of all environmental impacts when purchasing a product. The problem could be, that the methodic is maybe not transparent enough because of its complexity. So, it would be still hard for customers to base their decisions on labels printed on the products.
To what extent are companies affected?
Subsequent to the now completed pilot phase, there will be a transition phase designed to provide a framework for monitoring existing rules, creating new rules and developing further methods. Even if the actual introduction of PEF and OEF is still in the future, companies should now be focusing on LCA in order to gain a competitive advantage over others and to further expand their sustainability efforts. Another approach is to start with the Corporate Carbon Footprint, and then extend it to the full LCA once a proper system is set. If you and your company have questions or need help, feel free to contact the DFGE experts.