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Product environmental footprint: Will the EU pave the way

As the environmental impact of food becomes an important indicator for consumers all around the world, private and public initiatives have multiplied. These initiatives use several methodologies to calculate the environmental impact of a product, which means that one product can have different results depending on the method used.

In the European Union, the Commission has decided to address this fragmentation by announcing the publication of a proposal for a Regulation on the substantiation of claims relating to the environmental performance of products and businesses.

La « cosmétofood », définir des produits frontières

Environmental labelling initiatives have multiplied in recent years, both within and outside the European Union. For instance, in France, voluntary environmental labelling has been used since 2013 and covers about 30 product categories such as furniture, clothing, hotels or food products, referring generally to greenhouse gas emission, damage to biodiversity and consumption of water and other natural resources. Other types of ratings, such as the Planet score, take more account of biodiversity and the use of pesticides, which are still insufficiently assessed by the Eco-score for instance.

As environmental labelling initiatives have multiplied, so have calls for unified eco-labelling schemes.

In the United Kingdom, Food Standard Agency Chiefs scientific advisor has recently called for a unified eco-labelling system to harmonise the different methodologies that currently exist.

In the European Union, the Commission announced in its communication on the European Green Deal1 that companies that make environmental claims will have to justify them to objectively assess their impact on the environment. This was further confirmed in the Circular Economy Action plan2, and the roadmap for the Regulation was published in July 2020. The publication of this initiative, initially scheduled for March 2022, is now expected for the end of November.

This initiative will require companies to substantiate their claims about the environmental footprint of a product by using standard methods for quantifying them.

A harmonised methodology to calculate the environmental footprint of products in the European Union will both protect the consumer against the use of false or misleading environmental claims (i.e., greenwashing) by making sure that the claims are reliable, comparable and verifiable across the European Union and ensure the uniform use of these claims within the European market.

As the unique method of quantification to measure the environmental performance of a product, the Commission has proposed the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)