Demystifying the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) 

A Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is a measure of the environmental performance of a good or service throughout its life-cycle that takes into account supply-chain activities (from the extraction of raw materials, through production and use, to final waste management). It is a method to model the environmental impacts of a product throughout its life-cycle.

The PEF was implemented through the adoption of the European Commission Recommendation on the use of common methods to measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and organisations and the Communication Building the Single Market for Green Products.  

The titles of these two documents are very good hints to understand the objectives of the PEF: it is about measuring environmental performance, but also communicating about a product’s environmental performance, and making it possible for consumers to compare green claims made by manufacturers.  

The aim is to make it easier for consumers to recognise how environmentally friendly a product is and to promote green products by making the environmental performance of products measurable and communicable according to a uniform procedure. Indeed, a company wishing to market its product as environmentally friendly in several Member States markets faces a confusing range of choices of methods and initiatives and this leads to additional costs for companies and confusion for consumers due to the many “green labels”. Simply put, the PEF allows for standardization and comparability of the environmental performance of products.  

To respond to the need for uniformisation of environmental performance calculation methods, the PEF methodology is associated with Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs). PEFCRS are a consistent set of rules to calculate relevant environmental information of products within the same categories. They are developed in collaboration with companies, experts, researchers, and trade associations of a sector. PEFCRs are important for PEF because they enable meaningful comparisons and comparability of the results obtained. 

Sustainability and PEF in the Footwear sector 

More and more footwear companies are rethinking their business models and want to create innovative and attractive products through efficient processes that take into consideration environmental challenges and limit costs increases to a minimum. On the one hand, it shows the commitment of the industry to do its part in reducing its environmental impact to protect the planet. On the other hand, sustainability also provides footwear companies with a competitive advantage because today’s consumers are increasingly taking into account a product’s environmental impact when making a purchase decision.  

This is why the European-funded project LIFE GreenShoes4All is a relevant initiative to support the European footwear industry in reducing its environmental impact. The project is contributing to the implementation of the PEF methodology by analysing 30 EU representative shoe styles. GreenShoes4All partners also work on new approaches to recycling polymeric waste materials and are developing innovative recycled materials and components with high performance. Project partner’s work will lead to recommendations and lessons learned that will be made available to footwear manufacturing companies.  

Eco-design guidelines: a guide for manufacturers to create footwear products with a lower PEF 

The GreenShoes4All partners have defined an eco-design methodology and developed a public Eco- design Guide to help companies integrate environmental aspects in the design of new footwear concepts. It presents 10 different Eco-design strategies and associated practical applications that provide guidance on design strategies, material and components selection, production techniques, distribution and sale, and recycling.  

Eco-design is a winning strategy for footwear SMEs. It brings economic benefits, by optimising the use of materials and energy, it improves the image of the company or brand, it results in more customer loyalty, and it facilitates products compliance with increasingly stringent environmental legal requirements.  

The guide is available HERE 

Paul Lasserre, CEC.