Measuring your company’s impacts, as a retailer or a manufacturer is the first step for any sustainability action plan. However, the full functionality of these assessments, such as carbon footprint and life cycle assessment (LCA), is often not utilised. Following implementation of so-called “green” product categories, data collection and analysis often end up on the shelf. As sustainability initiatives become global more can be done to make the most of the information gathered.

Emissions associated with imports have increased by 74% for consumer products in the last 20 years, according to a recent report from the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The carbon footprint of imported products also showed an increase, of 39%. Overall, this represents 51% of the greenhouse gas footprint for the UK, equivalent to 506mt CO2.

Pilot Scheme in Progress

Food products contribute to almost 28% of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meat and dairy products, as well as bread and cereals are among the major sources. The Co-operative Group, Nestle and Sainsbury’s have signed up to a pilot scheme that will examine ways to prevent waste, improve energy and water consumption and reduce GHG emissions across their supply chains.  For example, Sainsbury’s will focus on improving the environmental performance of its non-vegetarian food products, while Nestle aims to improve collaboration with its principal milk supplier in the UK, to develop a new working method.

Bob Gordon, the British Retail Consortium’s environmental policy adviser, said this initiative showed that retailers were committed to sustainability and driving down environmental impacts: “Reducing reliance on water, for example, should help ensure that supply chains remain resilient and dependable even at times when water is scarce.”

Sustainability is not only about carbon footprinting. This type of initiative may be high on the public agenda at the moment but there are other opportunities for companies to evaluate and improve their products’ environmental performance.  Many similar initiatives are taking place in Europe and SGS is actively participating in a number of these.

What’s next?

Naturally, this is a progressive approach to simplify consumer choice and encourage suppliers to produce goods more responsibly. A larger number of products will be evaluated in order to better assist consumers in their purchases. Market trends, regulations, best practices and recommendations for government agencies are regularly scanned to update thresholds and follow up improvements made by suppliers to their products.

A recent proposal from the European Commission, containing a Communication on Building the Single Market for Green Products and a Recommendation on the use of the methods, proposes EU-wide methods to measure the environmental performance of products and organisations. It also encourages Member States and the private sector to take them up. The Communication has been adopted and food products are included.

The main objectives of this proposal are to:

  • Put forward two methods to measure environmental performance throughout the lifecycle, the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and the Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF).
  • Recommend the voluntary use of these methods to Member States, companies, private organizations and the financial community.
  • Announce a three-year testing period to develop product- and sector-specific rules through a multi-stakeholder process, including provision for assessment for organisations with different methods.
  • Provide principles for communicating environmental performance, such as transparency, reliability, completeness, comparability and clarity.
  • Support international efforts towards greater coordination in methodological development and data availability.

Testing Period

An open call for volunteers will be published before June by the Commission on the web portals for the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and the Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF), inviting companies, industrial and stakeholder organizations in the EU and beyond to participate in the development of product-group specific and sector-specific rules.

A second phase will build on an in-depth evaluation of the results of the three-year testing and additional actions carried out under the Proposal. Based on this evaluation, the Commission will decide on further policy applications of the PEF and OEF methods.

If you want to be supported in taking part in the open call for volunteers or need complementary information on PEF and OEF, please contact:

Pierre Boccon-Gibod
Senior Sustainability Consultant
SGS United Kingdom Limited
t: +44 203 008 78 66