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Product environmental footprint in policy and market decisions: Applicability and impact assessment

Lehmann, Annekatrin; Bach, Vanessa; Finkbeiner, Matthias

In April 2013, the European Commission published the Product and Organisation Environmental Footprint (PEF/OEF) methodology—a life cycle‐based multicriteria measure of the environmental performance of products, services, and organizations. With its approach of “comparability over flexibility,” the PEF/OEF methodology aims at harmonizing existing methods, while decreasing the flexibility provided by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards regarding methodological choices. Currently, a 3‐y pilot phase is running, aiming at testing the methodology and developing product category and organization sector rules (PEFCR/OEFSR). Although a harmonized method is in theory a good idea, the PEF/OEF methodology presents challenges, including a risk of confusion and limitations in applicability to practice. The paper discusses the main differences between the PEF and ISO methodologies and highlights challenges regarding PEF applicability, with a focus on impact assessment. Some methodological aspects of the PEF and PEFCR Guides are found to contradict the ISO 14044 (2006) and ISO 14025 (2006). Others, such as prohibition of inventory cutoffs, are impractical. The evaluation of the impact assessment methods proposed in the PEF/OEF Guide showed that the predefined methods for water consumption, land use, and abiotic resources are not adequate because of modeling artefacts, missing inventory data, or incomplete characterization factors. However, the methods for global warming and ozone depletion perform very well. The results of this study are relevant for the PEF (and OEF) pilot phase, which aims at testing the PEF (OEF) methodology (and potentially adapting it) as well as addressing challenges and coping with them. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2015;11:417–424.
Published in: Integrated environmental assessment and management, 10.1002/ieam.1658, Wiley