How the PEF and OEF can be expected to be used in EU policy and industry

The development of the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF) was initiated with the aim of developing a harmonized environmental footprinting methodology that can accommodate a broader suite of relevant environmental performance criteria. While the final policy and industry applications are still to be decided on, consumer labels and business-to-business communication vehicles are already being developed and tested by the Technical Secretariats.

Our expertise indicates that the PEF is suitable for consumer labels (e.g. complementing the Energy-label or to enrich the EU Ecolabel), for business-to-business EPD-type product declarations, for advancing the Implementing Measures under the Ecodesign Directive, to improve labelling of food products, and for use in green public procurement (GPP), among other applications. The OEF could enrich the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme EMAS, could be used in incentive schemes, and could improve company ratings in industry-driven initiatives. For consumers, the PEF- and OEF-based communication vehicles are expected to help reduce consumer confusion and lack of confidence regarding currently available environmental information, acting as crystallization points to consolidate the proliferation of “green” labels on the market. How far the PEF and OEF will be able to harness this potential will depend on the practicality of the final technical rules that are still being fine-tuned by the European Commission.


The PEF/OEF development – scope, timeline, and achievements

On the 9th of April 2013, the European Commission issued the Environmental Footprint Communication. Since then, it has been providing the methodology for PEF and OEF studies and the ongoing pilot phase. The ongoing pilot phase, which was started in the second half of 2013 and is scheduled to end by end of 2017, follows a first pilot phase in 2011-2012 that field-tested the PEF/OEF guides themselves.

The main purposes of the second, ongoing pilot phase are the development of the product-group and sector specific guides (PEFCRs and OEFSRs), the testing and establishment of a generally applicable procedure for their development, and the testing of communication vehicles and of PEF/OEF study verification procedures.

The following 22 product groups are part of the on-going PEF pilot phase:

Batteries and accumulators, beer, dairy, decorative paints, feed for food-producing animals, hot and cold water supply pipes, household detergents, intermediate paper product, IT equipment (hard disks), leather, meat (bovine, pigs, sheep), metal sheets, non-leather shoes, olive oil, packed water, pasta, pet food (cats & dogs), photovoltaic electricity generation, thermal insulation, t-shirts, uninterruptible power supply, and wine. The two sectors piloting the OEF are copper producers and retail. thinkstep, being the globally leading and largest consultant for life cycle studies, has provided life cycle data for all these industries over many years and has  dedicated and experienced experts that can provide you with efficient quality consulting services across industrial sectors.

Each of the 22 PEFCRs and 2 OEFSRs is developed by a Technical Secretariat, with a total of about 300 organisations as official members, with frequent physical meetings. Most of these are multinational companies and industry associations, plus a number of SMEs, NGOs, consultants, and governmental bodies, including for example Adidas, Apple, CEPE, EEB, European Copper Institute, Evonik, Heineken, KME, Hitachi, Nestle, P&G, Pernod Hennessy, PlasticsEurope, RECHARGE, SCA, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Tata Steel, the ADEME, Unilever, WWF, and many others. It is good to understand the key role industry has in this initiative, as evidenced in the composition of the Technical Secretariats. See also the lists of thinkstep’s clients and client statements, some of which we also serve in a PEF/OEF context. 

About 1800 stakeholders from around the word take part in the pilots. The following map shows the global distribution (data from European Commission, Environmental Footprint team).








As the PEF is for producers globally that serve the EU market, it will be reassuring to know that thinkstep has offices around the world, from the U.S. through Japan to India and New Zealand, to name a few, and next to many offices in Europe, providing  local expert support to the global industry.

The first 22 PEFCRs and 2 OEFSRs will be available to the market by the end of this year (see next figure), and the initial communication vehicles can be used. Policy development will need a lead time, with the first EU policies to be expected around 2020/2021. See also the indicative timeline, below.










During the pilots, a wide range of methodological and technical challenges has been addressed, including on dealing with multifunctionality in meat and dairy products, developing specific rules for packaging modelling, accounting for biogenic carbon uptake and release, regionalized water consumption modelling, end of life modelling, etc. All this has helped ensure the robustness and reproducibility of PEF and OEF studies, while providing a level playing field for competing products on the market. The resulting rules are documented in the Commission’s new PEFCR and OEFSR development guidance documents (under finalization). However, aside the product groups and sectors covered in the 24 ongoing pilots, the PEF and OEF guides of 2013 can also be used for PEF and OEF studies on any kind of product and company, without the formal necessity to establish first a PEFCR or OEFSR. In fact, the Commission has formally recommended to the EU Member States to use the PEF and OEF guides for this purpose. Implementation of PEF and OEF studies by industry under the established PEFCRs and OEFSRs or exclusively based on the PEF and OEF guides, and over the next years needs suitable software tools that support efficient and compliant modelling, such as GaBi for PEF studies and SoFi for OEF studies. Working in addition  with pre-structured models and sector-specific interfaces, these can significantly reduce both the expertise needed and the overall effort and will ultimately minimize costs for implementation.

Policy background of the PEF/OEF development

Starting from the conclusions of the "Sustainable materials management and sustainable production and consumption" (December 2010), the European Council invited the Commission to "develop a common methodology on the quantitative assessment of environmental impacts of products, throughout their life-cycle, in order to support the assessment and labelling of products".

A specific objective on environmental footprint is included in the Communication on the Single Market Act: “Proposal No 10: Before 2012, the Commission will look into the feasibility of an initiative on the Ecological Footprint of Products to address the issue of the environmental impact of products, including carbon emissions. The initiative will explore possibilities for establishing a common European methodology to assess and label them.”

The publication of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap further strengthened and defined the future role of the environmental footprint methodology by explaining that “the Commission will establish a common methodological approach to enable Member States and the private sector to assess, display and benchmark the environmental performance of products, services and companies based on a comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts over the life-cycle ('environmental footprint') (in 2012)”

These mandates were implemented through the adoption of the Communication on Building the Single Market for Green Products and of the Commission Recommendation on the use of common methods to measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and organisations which is now continued as a key instrument under the Circular Economy Package.


Further resources at the European Commission:

Single market for Green Products – entry page for Environmental footprinting at the European Commission:

Circular Economy, with the Environmental footprint as a key element:

>> More information on PEF