Experts of thinkstep talking about the EU Environmental Footprint

Hannes Partl (M.Eng., VP Consulting Services)

To me, an Environmental Footprint has always been the quantification of an array of environmental impacts (and/or benefits). “Environmental profile” would be my preference, however, “Footprint” seems to resonate better with the public, and has been well accepted during the “carbon” (greenhouse gas) footprint hype that started about a decade ago.

When asked by people “What is this European Product Environmental Footprint all about?”, I offer “90% life cycle assessment (LCA) in conformance with established international standards, plus 10% more specific calculation rules to enable a more robust and fair comparison of products within the same product group”.

Methodological details aside, the challenge of communicating PEF (and OEF) results is still not fully resolved. For business-to-business applications this seems easier, as fewer individuals will (be able to) handle the more complex information – an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) type communication vehicle is surely suitable. For consumers, the challenge of compressing complex information into an easy-to-understand label, without making it meaningless, is much greater.

Whichever way this will be resolved, people at thinkstep are proud to be contributing to putting the vision of a Single Green Market into effect through development of tailored software tools, solid data, and professional consulting work, while keeping an eye on cost-effectiveness and on confidentiality concerns of our industry clients.

Marta Bonell (Dipl. -Ing., Global Service Delivery Metals & Manufacturing)

Besides supporting associations and companies with PEF/OEF related activities, I am also coordinating thinkstep‘s contributions to the ongoing “remodelling project”. thinkstep is part of the consortium supporting the European Commission with remodelling of 22 of the total 66 representative products and organisations out of seven pilots: rechargeable batteries, wine, decorative paints, footwear, IT equipment (storage), metal sheets, and copper production. Beyond that, GaBi is also the dedicated software tool for delivering the models of all the 66 representative products and organisations in a common electronic format, intended to be made available by the European Commission for free use by any producing company worldwide for implementing PEF and OEF studies under the named PEFCRs and OEFSRs. Also the aggregated EF-compliant datasets are foreseen to be provided – consistently – via the GaBi software.

It is planned that the Technical Secretariats will receive the hotspot analysis and benchmark results by mid-August, and the finalization of the project is scheduled for end of the year.

Personally, I am very proud to coordinate this time-wise very challenging but also very important project for the PEF, in terms of harmonization. 


Sebastian Schulz (M.Eng., GaBi Software Product Manager)

As Product Manager for GaBi Software, I have made sure to follow the latest developments regarding Environmental Footprint requirements. For our software, it has always been a high priority to comply with the latest standards and schemes, and the European Commission’s Environmental Footprint has been the key development in recent years.

I think that for the success of Environmental Footprints it is critically important that PEF and OEF studies can be carried out rapidly, easily, and effectively. With my contribution in coordinating the further development of the GaBi software, I want to make it easier for the GaBi users to implement a PEF or OEF study, as far as possible even for non LCA experts. With our  Envision tool and the GaBi iReport we are working to provide such solutions. The new GaBi 8 will be released during Q2 2017 and will give access to an even further improved PEF/OEF-compliant ILCD import and export functionality. thinkstep fully supports the ILCD format as a data exchange format between LCA practitioners using different LCA software solutions. I see this as an essential contribution to fuel LCA-based applications within industry and research. Besides further improved functionality for LCA data exchange, the GaBi software already supports ILCD-conformant documentation of datasets efficiently directly inside the software, making it the most powerful PEF/OEF-compliant modelling engine.

Personally I hope that LCA becomes a standard component for measuring the environmental impacts of products/organisations to inform consumers and support them with making better product choices. Personally, I expect that the PEF/OEF will be a key tool in this context across the EU market.

However, personally I also see that LCA is too complicated for consumers to understand. I therefore hope, that the Environmental Footprint Initiative will make decision-making not more complicated, but that it builds the foundation for simple LCA-based labelling. This needs to be based on clear rules and solid data, which make the comparison of products easy for everybody, while enabling fair competition among producers, and without oversimplifying the matter.

Constantin Herrmann (M. Eng, PhD; Team Lead Metals, Manufacturing, Electronics & Automotive)

The commodities industry has worked with LCA over many years to foster their reputation and to provide transparency regarding environmental aspects. The metals industry is traditionally one of the most active industry users and promoters of LCA. With the Product Environmental Footprint, the industry took the opportunity to intensify harmonization across the main metals including copper, steel, aluminium and lead, that are used in many sectors such as building & construction, and electronics. The ongoing PEF pilot phase covers many products of these markets and thus a vertical as well as horizontal harmonization is a vital element to provide stable and reliable PEF results. thinkstep is the ideal partner for such efforts, due to its multi-sectoral positioning and client base. In this context, Dr. Ladji Tikana (German Copper Institute, DKI) says: “DKI and ECI are participating in the PEF pilot of metal sheets to ensure that PEF takes regard of LCA related agreements in the metal sector. A harmonization across all metals is important to ensure fair and comparable calculations of all products. Otherwise the door is open for misleading decisions.”

Other industry sectors also made important progress on open issues, such as on the comparability of rechargeable batteries. Claude Chanson (RECHARGE association), coordinator of the Technical Secretariat of the rechargeable batteries pilot, explains: “During the PEF pilot phase of the High Specific Energy Rechargeable Batteries for Mobile Applications PEFCR, the Technical Secretariat successfully agreed on a unit of analysis for the PEF assessment, that focusses on the application of the battery. This enables a valid calculation for different batteries chemistries used in common applications.” Thus any quality of a battery can be modelled, e.g. by the demand of more than one battery over the lifetime of an application. The automotive industry – an important user of rechargeable batteries – has expressed appreciation of this great success in the PEFCR development.

In addition to thinkstep‘s work in supporting the rechargeable batteries PEF pilots, our team is also supporting the broader electronics industry at a more general level. The various pilots on electrical and electronics products in the PEF (rechargeable batteries, uninterruptable power supply, hard disks, photovoltaics) all require reliable life cycle data on the materials, parts and components used in these products. thinkstep has been developing and maintaining a broad and globally unique life cycle database for electronic products for many years and is regularly updating and is expanding its scope. thinkstep is now the selected data provider of the official and mandatory EU electrics and electronics datasets for PEF/OEF implementation, providing the required reliable and consistent high quality datasets for PEF/OEF studies.

These two specific examples of the metal sheets and the rechargeable batteries – two industries with very different products – illustrate the many challenges that the PEF process has encountered and overcome.

Contributing as an expert to such developments, supporting industry in their endeavours to improve the sustainability of industry in a competitive market - providing methodological advice, high quality data, and implementing studies, is what personally drives me to work in this domain.

Harald Florin (M.Eng, VP Product Sustainability)

thinkstep has been supporting industry and the European Commission early on in the preparative steps towards what is now the Environmental Footprint Initiative: since early 2005, thinkstep has provided the European Reference Life Cycle Database (ELCD). This was achieved in conjunction with a wide range of EU-level and global industry associations, most of which we had been working closely with for many years beforehand. In its GaBi software, thinkstep was the first major data provider to implement the Commission’s newly developed ILCD format to facilitate data exchange across systems. This has been a key step towards better data interoperability, both for PEF/OEF and in LCA more generally.

Since the announcement of the 2nd pilot phase of the Environmental Footprint initiative by the European Commission on 9th of April 2013, thinkstep has been following its development even more closely. thinkstep decided to offer users of the GaBi software solution access to a free  “GaBi PEF test kit”.

With this kit, GaBi users can use and test the different methodological aspects considered within the PEF pilot phase to understand impacts on their LCA work, and to contribute to the methodological discussion coordinated by the European Commission. This offer included free access to all of thinkstep’s own GaBi databases, of many thousands of high quality life cycle datasets for use in PEF/OEF context and by all Technical Secretariat members.

Besides this GaBi PEF test kit, experts from thinkstep have also held a range free-of-charge webinars on both the strategic and technical expert level, on different aspects of the PEF/OEF, what it means for business and which options companies have to position and/or engage with this policy-driven development. These webinars draw about 2000 participants from across the world. In addition during the annual symposium organized by thinkstep in 2014 and 2015 full day workshops were offered to learn and discuss about the PEF initiative.

More webinars are planned and further training courses will be offered, some of which are of interest also outside the PEF/OEF, such as, for example, on the new developments of regionalised water footprinting that takes into account regionalised scarcity. With the latest annual upgrade of mid-February this year, thinkstep‘s GaBi databases already support such analysis with regionalised water consumption data being integrated in the about 11000 GaBi life cycle datasets.

>> More information of PEF

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