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Benchmarking and environmental performance classes in life cycle assessment—development of a procedure for non-leather shoes in the context of the Product Environmental Footprint

Gül, Sarah; Spielmann, Michael; Lehmann, Annekatrin; Eggers, Diana; Bach, Vanessa; Finkbeiner, Matthias

Purpose: In the process of developing Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR)—currently tested in various pilots in the Single Market for Green Products initiative of the European Commission—the definition of product category benchmarks and environmental performance classes is a crucial element of each PEFCR. Whilst life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology developed over the last 20 years can be used for many other topics to be tackled in the pilots, there is a clear lack of methodology for the determination of benchmarks and environmental performance classes. In this article, hence, we address this gap and develop a procedure for benchmarking and environmental performance classes in LCA. Methods: To do this, given requirements and definitions of the PEF guidelines on both subjects are taken as a basis and are refined by using common LCA techniques like hot spot and sensitivity analyses. The specific steps of the procedure are applied systematically in a case study using sports shoes as an example. Results and discussion: The resulting procedure involves the definition of a scenario vector, which is composed of relevant life cycle phases as well as the lifetime of the product (i.e. sports shoes) as variables. On the basis of the hot spot and sensitivity analyses, these variables are quantified, first, to generate the benchmark and, second, to determine the environmental performance classes around the benchmark for each considered impact category individually. In addition, the influence of data uncertainty on the class distribution is assessed with the help of the Monte Carlo simulation. Conclusions: The results of the application in the case study demonstrate the high impact of the product’s lifetime on the final environmental performance classes, and the importance of data quality. Limitations are identified regarding data availability and the harmonisation of the classes to potentially create a PEF label. A debate is induced on the validity of such a label when considering the fact that the characterisation methods and factors proposed in the PEF guidelines may not be complete or accurate enough.
Published in: The international journal of life cycle assessment, 10.1007/s11367-015-0975-7, Springer