PEFMED: Creating a sustainable agri-food sector in the Mediterranean

If used correctly, the European Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) can help the Mediterranean agri-food sector become more sustainable. The EU-funded PEFMED project was established to help Mediterranean agri-food businesses navigate, implement, and benefit from the complex PEF framework.

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Picture taken during a PEFMED pilot action in a vineyard in Apulia, Italy. ©Michele Vitiello, 2019 Picture taken during a PEFMED pilot action in a vineyard in Apulia, Italy. ©Michele Vitiello, 2019

" Feta is a traditional Protected Designation of Origin product with a long history, made from sheep and goat’s milk. Through the pilot phase of the PEFMED project we tested the PEF methodology for dairy products in Feta cheese production. From these tests, we developed significant proposals and recommendations to become reliable and representative for this specific product category. "

Ioannis Vastardis, Milk Zone Operations Manager, Delta Foods S.A.

The agri-food sector plays an essential role in the economic and social wellbeing of Mediterranean countries. Unfortunately, it has a significant environmental footprint. With sustainability becoming increasingly important for both governments and consumers, the sector needs to adapt. 

Developed by the European Commission in 2013, the PEF is a harmonised method for quantifying the environmental impact of a product throughout its lifecycle – from cultivation to processing, transport, consumption, and disposal.

A tailored tool for improving agri-food business

The PEFMED method combines the EU’s PEF with a unique socioeconomic performance indicator (SE-KPI) tool. Developed by project partner DNV GL, it is used to identify where a company can improve socioeconomic issues such as human rights, working conditions, health and safety, cultural heritage and governance. Furthermore, the tool can be tailored to meet the specific needs of workers, local communities, consumers, and other interested parties.

The PEFMED method has been tested in nine Mediterranean agri-food product chains and clusters: 

  • Cheese: Lombardy, Italy; Thessaly, Greece; and Western Slovenia, Slovenia
  • Cured meat: Catalonia, Spain
  • Olive oil: Andalucia, Spain; and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
  • Wine: Apulia, Italy
  • Feed: Alentejo, Portugal
  • Bottled water: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France 

Based on the results of these tests, project researchers developed a sustainable business plan that each participating company can use to implement environmental and socioeconomic improvements. The plans detail how the solutions can be integrated into the company’s strategy and include information on timing, costs, and benefits.

Far-reaching impact

In addition to the SE-KPI tool, project partner CRITT developed a unique tool for calculating PEF for olive oil and packed water. Following a brief consultation on their use, companies can incorporate the tools into their management strategy. Both tools are available for free from the PEFMED wiki platform. 

In total, 56 enterprises (nine companies producing final products plus suppliers) were involved in the PEFMED pilot phase. With the support of regional agri-food federations such as Federalimentare, FIAB, FIPA, GZS, ANIA and SEVT, the PEFMED method and benefits will be rolled out to more than 100 companies across the Mediterranean region via dissemination events, training sessions, and transnational workshops. 

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Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “PEFMED – Uptake of the Product Environmental Footprint across the MED agri-food regional productive systems to enhance innovation and market value” is EUR 2 438 360, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 2 072 606 through the “Mediterranean” Transnational Cooperation Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period.