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Policy background

In its conclusions on the Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan the Council invited the Commission "taking into account Member States' experience, to start working as soon as possible on common voluntary methodologies facilitating the future establishment of carbon audits for organisations and the calculation of the carbon footprint of products".

As a follow-up to the Council conclusions, the European Commission conducted two studies

  • One on Product Carbon Footprint methods that involved analysing existing methodologies and initiatives and how they might relate to future policies. One of the main outcomes of this study was that it is important to take into consideration all environmental impacts of products in a balanced way. In the case of some product groups, GHG emissions are not the most significant environmental aspect, therefore other environmental impacts need to be taken into account as well to provide balanced information for consumers on the environmental performance of products.
  • Another one on Company GHG Emissions Reporting, which analysed existing leading methodologies and initiatives, costs and benefits related to GHG reporting based on existing information and on interviews, a range of possible policy scenarios and how methodologies might relate to these.

On this basis, a Product Environmental Footprint and Organisation Environmental Footprint projects were initiated with the aim of developing a harmonized environmental footprinting methodology that can accommodate a broader suite of relevant environmental performance criteria.

The Communication on Single Market Act also included a specific objective on environmental footprint:

Proposal No 10: Before 2012, the Commission will look into the feasibility of an initiative on the Ecological Footprint of Products to address the issue of the environmental impact of products, including carbon emissions. The initiative will explore possibilities for establishing a common European methodology to assess and label them.

In its conclusion on the "Sustainable materials management and sustainable production and consumption" (December 2010), the European Council invited the Commission to "develop a common methodology on the quantitative assessment of environmental impacts of products, throughout their life-cycle, in order to support the assessment and labelling of products".

The publication of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap strengthened further and defined the future role of the environmental footprint methodology by explaining that the Commission will:

  • Establish a common methodological approach to enable Member States and the private sector to assess, display and benchmark the environmental performance of products, services and companies based on a comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts over the life-cycle ('environmental footprint') (in 2012);
  • Ensure better understanding of consumer behaviour and provide better information on the environmental footprints of products, including preventing the use of misleading claims, and refining eco-labelling schemes (in 2012).

The European Commission gathered views and additional information on the potential measures related to Sustainable Consumption and Production through a public consultation. As part of this, we were consulting on options for policies implementing the Product Environmental Footprint and Organisation Environmental Footprint. The consultation also looked at Green Public Procurement [make sure that this link opens in a new page]. The summary report of the consultation is available.

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

  • establishes two methods to measure environmental performance throughout the lifecycle, the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and the Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF);
  • recommends the use of these methods to Member States, companies, private organisations and the financial community;
  • announces a three-year testing period to develop product- and sector-specific rules through a multi-stakeholder process;
  • provides principles for communicating environmental performance, such as transparency, reliability, completeness, comparability and clarity;
  • supports international efforts towards more coordination in methodological development and data availability.

To prepare further work regarding communication, a study was carried out on Different options for communicating environmental information for products (2012) (study Annexes).

Read further on the 2013-16 Environmental Footprint pilot phase.