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Using the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Framework for LCA's

When deciding what methodology and standard to use for a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) there is a whole range to choose from. Some of the most frequently used are PEF, ReCiPE, Ecological Footprint, and Planetary Boundary. There are also several popular methods that only look at a single environmental indicator such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol or the AWARE method (that is also incorporated into PEF) for water scarcity. All of these methodologies evolve over time, and are useful for specific applications. Some are intended to be used only for a small geographical region like the Swiss UBP methodology, and others like the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, focus on only one indicator and are well suited for industries whose impact is primarily or almost exclusively related to that category, in this example Climate Change (such as the energy or transport sector). 

At Sustained we came to the conclusion that the EU’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method is currently the most holistic and future-proofed method for LCA’s for the food industry. Alongside PEF we also use the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as a method to calculate carbon footprints, and the Sustained platform is built to support further methodologies over time. That way we can help customers operating in different sectors and geographies and remain agile to adjust as methodologies, frameworks and regulations evolve.  

Let me explain the main factors that elevate PEF for life cycle assessments:

Recognised by the scientific community and regulators 

PEF, developed by the EU’s Joint Research Centre, is highly recognised not only within the scientific community but also in regulatory discussions. The EU has integrated PEF into policies like the Taxonomy Regulation and the Green Consumption Pledge stating “The use of the Environmental Footprint methods is already foreseen in the context of EU policies and legislation such as the Taxonomy Regulation, the Sustainable Batteries Initiative and the Green Consumption Pledge. Based on the results of the comprehensive testing, the European Commission is now exploring how to use the Product and Organisation Environmental Footprint methods in other policies” underlining its commitment to PEF and its future facing relevance for businesses. 

Provides holistic coverage of environmental impact categories

PEF provides a comprehensive view of environmental impacts, covering 16 different categories including climate change, water scarcity and land use. This is important in the food sector, where especially impacts extend beyond carbon. To provide robust environmental intelligence and enable businesses to make more sustainable food products we felt PEF was the most encompassing method. 

Offers defaults to bridge data gaps and enable a fast start to LCA's 

For companies starting their LCA journey, PEF offers default values for variables like transport modes and distances, facilitating meaningful analysis where first party data across a supply isn’t available. These defaults allow companies to gather insights on product life cycles and to get an idea of where the largest impacts occur also with incomplete data, while their standardisation enables like-for-like comparisons across assessments form different sources.

Ensures consistency and comparability of LCA's 

While we initially considered creating our own methodology, we heard from our customers that lack of comparability due to different scopes considered between LCAs is a big pain point in the industry. We also wanted a recognised and robust method for the weighting and prioritising of the different categories to provide the most credible assessments we could. We considered using ReCiPe which has a comparable scope to PEF with comparable impact categories, however it does not have any modelling framework or standardisation. For our purposes we opted for the standardised modelling requirements that are part of PEF. 

In summary, at Sustained we believe the scope, consistency and regulatory recognition of PEF makes it the most suitable methodology for assessing the environmental impact of food production. By offering PEF, alongside GHG Protocol for our customers Sustained provides flexibility, and a comprehensive approach to environmental impact management for food companies. 

If you’d like to get fast and affordable product lifecycle assessments, a range of tools to reduce your impact and defensible data to make sustainable claims to your customers then please get in touch