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What is a Product Environmental Footprint?

Definition, history, goals & methodology

Product Environmental Footprint – Definition

A Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is a new method for measuring sustainability performance developed by the European Commission in cooperation with companies and sustainability experts. The aim of the PEF is to improve the validity and comparability of the environmental performance evaluation compared to existing methods.

The PEF makes it possible to determine all relevant environmental and health impacts as well as resource-related burdens caused by a product. For the calculation, the entire life cycle of the products is considered.

Next to the Product Environmental Footprint, there exists the Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF) as the need for an environmental performance assessment exists not only for products, but also for companies and other organizations.

Goals of PEF

  • Reduction of the negative environmental impact of the production system
  • Optimization of the production process and identification of problem areas
  • Simplification of B2B and B2C communication
  • Dissemination of the environmental performance evaluation by low expenditure
  • Saving of costs in environmental analysis
Product Environmental Footprint Definition

Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules

PEF and OEF are intended to promote "Green Businesses" by making the environmental performance of companies measurable and communicable according to a uniform procedure. The aim is to make it easier for consumers to recognize how environmentally friendly a product or company is.

PEF is the EU Commission's response to the demand for standardization and comparability of the environmental performance of products.

Recognised standards and methods already exist to assess the environmental impact of products (e.g. LCA - Life Cycle Assessment). However, due to the universal applicability of some standards, there is scope for interpretation and questions of interpretation which can impair the consistency and comparability of the results.

In order to achieve the goal of a uniform methodology throughout Europe, the PEF is subject to strict rules. The Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs) have therefore been developed in collaboration with companies from various sectors.

Product Environmental Footprint in detail

History of the Product Environmental Footprint

In the following, you will get to know the development of the PEF, which can be divided into four phases.

2008-2013: Preparatory Phase
Definition of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs) and Organisation Environmental Footprint Sector Rules (OEFSRs)

2013-2019: Pilot Phase
First practical test of PEFCRs in pilot projects for readjustment and further specification

2019-2021: Transition Phase
Application of the PEFCRs on a larger scale and implementation of a uniform labeling

From 2021: Implementation Phase
Decision where and when PEF is required by law and communication of the results with the public

The Difference between PEF and LCA

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in accordance with ISO 14044 is one of the widely used standards for environmental assessment. Like the LCA, the PEF takes a life cycle perspective, but follows further product category specific requirements and standardised specifications which create a higher comparability of the results.

Examples of which key requirements differ:

  • System Boundary
    The PEF method by default covers the entire cradle-to-grave cycle of a product, unless broken by PEFCRs. Classical LCAs vary in their metrics depending on the objective and scope of the study.
  • Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) Methods
    In the PEF approach, there is a standardised set of LCIA methods, while in LCAs different variants can be identified, which in turn complicates the comparison of LCAs.
  • Dealing with End-of-life phase
    The requirement of ISO 14044 only states that the End-of-life phase should be considered, e.g. the disposal or recycling of a product. PEF provides a concrete approach and a formula for end-of-life processes.
Product Environmental Footprint Definition

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  • Product Carbon Footprints (PCF)
  • Corporate Carbon Footprints (CCF)
  • Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)
  • Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)
  • Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)
  • Material Flow Cost Accounting (MFCA)


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We were involved in the pilot phase of the PEF development and are your reliable partner for all questions concerning this topic. Come aboard and let us discover together what opportunities and possibilities the Product Environmental Footprint has in store for you.

  • Methodical and implementation-oriented knowledge about PEF and other instruments of environmental performance assessment
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