Last week the European Commission proposed EU-wide methods to measure the environmental performance of products and organisations.
The move stems from concern about the various government and private methods for companies to monitor and measure environmental performance and the costs that can be involved. At the same time, consumers are confused by the plethora of environmental labels. A single, unified approach across Europe would prevent confusion and would support the Single Market for Green Products, a part of the EU’s Single Market Act of 2011.
The proposal includes:
measuring environmental performance through a Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and an Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF);
recommending the voluntary use of these methods to EU countries, companies, individuals and the financial community;
a three-year ‘testing period’ to develop product and industry rules, as well as assessing existing methods;
principles around transparency, reliability, completeness, comparability and clarity in communicating environmental performance;
supporting international efforts towards more coordination in methodological development and data availability.
The PEF and OEF methods have been prepared by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), so they cover environmental impacts from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal of a product.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "To boost sustainable growth, we need to make sure that the most resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly products on the market are known and recognisable. By giving people reliable and comparable information about the environmental impacts and credentials of products and organisations, we enable them to choose. And by helping companies to align their methods we cut their costs and administrative burdens."
When the testing period starts there will be a call for volunteers from stakeholder groups to help develop rules for the PEF and OEF. A second phase will evaluate the results of and will be the basis for policy applications.
Review: Arguably the EU is late in the game of developing environmental performance standards. Various organisations, have been working on aspects and methodologies for a number of years. I guess the advantage of the EU’s involvement now is that much of the hard work has already been done in understanding the issues and challenges. And this proposal also looks at how the rules should be implemented by organisations across the EU, ensuring a level playing field.
Hopefully the proposal will include many of the elements of the de facto standards already widely used, such as the GHG Protocol and Carbon Disclosure Project (and others). Anything that strays significantly from what’s already broadly accepted is likely to cause some resentment. Hopefully, though, it will be a unifying development, pulling together the best of what’s out there now.
Ultimately the proposal may be enshrined in legislation, so companies and manufacturers need to be aware of developments. The proposals have the potential to impact a range of industries at both the product and company level. It could well have significant impact on Corporate Social Responsibility activities as well as internal ICT operations.