What are the consumer expectations concerning the product environmental footprint?
The most recent economic-behavioral studies in US and Europe confirm that, even in a period of economic crisis, the value gap between what consumers declare (willingness to pay for more environmentally friendly products) and what they really do when shopping (information at point of sale) is progressively shrinking. It is clear that people would like to have better (not necessarily more) environmental information related to the products they buy (they declare they want something good for them and for the environment). Another clear trend is that people do not trust business-driven marketing campaign. In Europe according to the latest Eurobarometer survey on this issue, only 2% of citizens trust private labels and business green marketing claims. They declare that they would only trust information that has been third-party verified and endorsed by governments and/or well recognized NGOs.
However, it is important to note that the work on Environmental Footprint is not exclusively aimed at business to consumer communication. On the contrary, we know that most of the benefits that this initiative will produce are related to the improvement of supply chain management, better business to business communication, reduction of costs for companies (especially SMEs) and support to European companies' competitiveness.
What are the PEF experimentation objectives?
The Environmental Footprint pilot phase launched by the Commission in November 2013 has three major objectives:
1) Test the process for the development of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs) and Organisation Environmental Footprint Sectoral Rules (OEFSRs). What makes this process different from similar ones already existing is that the competitors are forced to sit around the same table and agree on a common set of rules to calculate the environmental profile of a certain product or company. This is guaranteed by the requirement to have at least 51%of the European market for each product group represented and actively contributing during the pilot phase. Moreover, another important difference compared to other approaches is that for the first time the rules will also include the environmental profile of the average product found on the market for each product group (the so called benchmark).
2) Test different approaches for verification systems (embedded impacts, traceability). It is very important when evaluating the possibility to implement policies based on Life Cycle Assessment that there is a balanced way of verifying the information provided. Several approaches will be tested in order to find the right balance between reliability of the verification and costs.
3) Communication vehicles. This part refers to both business-to-business and business-to-consumer communication.
What can bring the PEP ecopassport® program to the PEF experimentation?
The PEP ecopassport® program can contribute by participating at the various stakeholder meetings, bringing its experience in PCR development. There are surely several things that can be improved and changed in the European Environmental Footprint approach, and that is exactly why we are carrying out this huge pilot phase. All the constructive criticism and sharing of best practices is very welcomed.
What message would you like to address to PEP ecopassport® program?
There is a clear plea coming from both most industry sectors and Member States that we have to "simplify" the current landscape when it comes to labels, schemes, certifications, etc. This requires both clear rules valid for all but also a tighter collaboration between different stakeholders. EPD are valuable to the extent that they include relevant, verifiable and not misleading information. They can (shall?) be improved by introducing more transparency, more representativeness, clear criteria on the quality of the data used, and also by providing a clearer role as tool to make comparisons and comparative assertions. Till the EPDs will not include also a benchmark they will tell you which are the environmental characteristics of a certain product, but not if it is good or bad.
Michele Galatola has a degree and post-doc in Environmental Sciences with about 15 years working experience in the area of waste and wastewater treatments, cleaner production, certification systems and, mainly, Life Cycle Thinking and Life Cycle Assessment. After having worked for several years in the Italian National Research Center for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment he has joined the European Commission in 2005. From 2005 till 2010 he has been working in the Directorate General for Research, being responsible for programming, launching and following a number of relevant research initiatives related to cleaner technologies (mainly waste) and methodological developments in the area of Life Cycle Assessment. July 2010 he has moved to the Directorate General of Environment, becoming Leader of the Product Team. He and his team are contributing to the implementation of some product-related policy tools (Ecolabel, Green Public Procurement, Ecodesign) and are leading the development and implementation of the EU Environmental Footprint methods adopted by the Commission in 2013.