Environmental Footprint


What is the Environmental Footprint?

A company wishing to market its product as environmentally friendly in several Member State markets faces a confusing range of choices of methods and initiatives. Sometimes they have to use different ones for different markets. This results in costs for companies and confusion for consumers

The European Commission proposed the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and Organisation Environmental Footprint (EF) methods as a common way of measuring environmental performance (EU Commission Recommendation 2021/2279). The PEF and OEF are the EU recommended Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) based methods to quantify the environmental impacts of products (goods or services) and organisations.

The overarching purpose of PEF and OEF information is to enable to reduce the environmental impacts of goods, services and organisations taking into account supply chain activities (from extraction of raw materials, through production and use to final waste management). This purpose is achieved through the provision of detailed requirements for modelling the environmental impacts of the flows of material/energy and the emissions and waste streams associated with a product or an organisation throughout the life cycle.

Policy related information on the Environmental Footprint is available on the dedicated page hosted by DG ENV which contains the scheduled PEF/OEF trainings and the archive of past trainings including recordings and slides.

JRC Support to EF development

The JRC plays a key role in the context of the Environmental Footprint. The JRC has been leading the technical and scientific development of the EF methods, defining the methodological requirements to be followed to perform EF studies and being responsible for many activities related to data development and provision.

A non-exhaustive list of JRC activities in support to EF development is:

  • Publication of technical reports including suggestions on how to update the PEF and OEF Guides,
  • Update and development of characterization models, normalization factors, and weighting factors for the life cycle impact assessment phase,
  • Facilitate the alignment between PEF and relevant European standards (e.g. EN 15804),
  • Publication of guidance documents to develop EF-compliant datasets
  • Maintenance of the Life Cycle Data Network for data provision to be used in an EF context
  • Release and update of the EF reference-packages to be used for the development of EF-compliant data sets (EF reference packages includes all the “fixed” items (XML files) of the ILCD-formatted package that cannot be generated or modified by third parties)
  • Development of software (e.g. Look@LCI, Validator) for checking and validating EF-compliant datasets
  • Chairing working groups to further advance on data and methodological requirements
  • Ensuring interoperability at global level (UNEP:GLAD and GLAM collaboration)

Methodological Developments of the Environmental Footprint

2021 Publication of the PEF and OEF Guides

The common methods to measure the life cycle environmental performances for PEF and OEF have been included in the Commission Recommendation 2021/2279 published in December 2021.

2019 – ongoing EF Transition phase

Since 2019 a new transition phase started. The main aims of this phase are:

- to provide a framework for monitoring the implementation of existing Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs) and Organisation Environmental Footprint Sector Rules (OEFSRs);

- to develop new PEFCRs/ OEFSRs;

- new methodological developments.

The JRC has developed two technical reports for the update the Product Environmental Footprint and the Organisation Environmental Footprint methods. These reports contain suggestions on how the PEF and OEF Guides should be amended in the future to reflect the developments and the practical experience gained during the pilot phase. The two technical reports are the reference documents to develop PEFCRs and OEFSRs in the EF transition phase.

EF data

EF compliant datasets (processes) are available through the nodes of data providers, the list of nodes currently deployed is available in the contact list of the EF registry in the Life Cycle Data Network. The datasets of the Representative Products are available for free in the EF node of the European Commission.

Since the first publication of the PEF and OEF Guides in 2013, the rules to conduct EF studies have been widely tested and, when necessary, improvements were introduced in additional guidance documents mainly developed by the JRC.

Therefore some methodological requirements have evolved over time; three main steps of development can be identified:

2013-2018 EF Pilot phase

From 2013 to 2018, the Environmental Footprint (EF) pilot phase has been carried out with three main objectives:

- test the process for developing product- and sector-specific rules;

- test different approaches to verification;

- test communication vehicles for communicating life cycle environmental performance to business partners, consumers and other company stakeholders.

Methodological improvements were developed during the EF pilot phase and were implemented in the PEFCRs and OEFSRs. Such methodological updates are available in the PEFCR Guidance 6.3 and OEFSR Guidance 6.3.

2013 Publication of the PEF and OEF Guides

The common methods to measure the life cycle environmental performances for PEF and OEF have been included for the first time in the EU Recommendation 2013/179/EU

2011 Delivery of “Analysis of Existing Environmental Footprint Methodologies for Products and Organizations”

The "Analysis of Existing Environmental Footprint Methodologies for Products and Organizations" forms the starting point for the development of a harmonized European methodology for environmental footprint that can accommodate a broad suite of relevant environmental performance criteria, including greenhouse gas emissions. The results suggest that advancing European guidance documents that provide for a greater degree of methodological specificity than existing methods and standards is required to move towards more consistency and reproducibility of results. This will be much more challenging for the company side where, in contrast to product footprint, life cycle approaches have not previously played an important role.