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Environmental footprint method to support the assessment of climate impacts of public procurements

Press release 2020-04-17 at 9:22
© Joe Beck / Unsplash

The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method developed by European Commission is used to assess the environmental impact of products throughout their life cycles. A new study by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) proposes that this method is suitable also to be used to evaluate the climate impacts of public procurements.

“Currently, the Product Environmental Footprint method can be considered the most comprehensive and up-to-date method for producing environmental information on products over the course of their life cycles. Compared to previous standards and calculation methods, PEF provides more precise guidelines for modelling the environmental impacts of products", says researcher Johanna Suikkanen.

The Finnish Environment Institute recommends that in public procurements, suppliers would be required to provide PEF-based carbon or environmental footprint calculations at least in connection with the contract. This practice would also prepare markets for the wider adoption of PEF in the future. According to the Finnish Government Program, the Act on Public Procurement and Concession Contracts will be amended to include carbon and environmental footprints as procurement criteria in procurements with significant environmental impact.

“The procurements and investments of cities, municipalities, joint municipal authorities as well as the state have a huge impact. Their annual greenhouse gas emissions are more than 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which makes up more than 15 percent of Finland’s consumption-based emissions. Information on the carbon footprint of procurements would help public organisations to reduce emissions and to establish markets for low-carbon goods and services", explains Development Manager Ari Nissinen.

Precise instructions for environmental assessment

In public procurement, different products or services need to be compared through tendering, or before that, through market analysis. The environmental footprint method can be used to produce comparable information on the environmental impacts of products and to calculate, for example, their carbon footprints.

In addition to climate impacts, the PEF method can also be used to examine the product’s influence on ecotoxity, acidification, eutrophication and the depletion of natural resources. The product’s entire life cycle is considered in order to determine the stages and processes with the most significant environmental impacts. The method presents detailed requirements for the quality of the source data.

Tendering requires product category-specific calculation rules

The applicability of the environmental footprint method in public procurement depends on whether the product category in question has Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR). When climate impacts are calculated according to the product category-specific PEFCRs, the acquired information is comparable and can therefore be used in tendering.

Currently, there are PEFCRs for 17 product categories, and rules for another five categories are being developed. The study carried out by the Finnish Environment Institute focused especially on the category rules for dairy products and IT equipment (storage units). Rules have also been devised for categories such as detergents, decorative paints, T-shirts and groceries. In addition, new rules are being developed for artificial turf and clothing, among others.

If PEFCRs are used for calculating the entire environmental footprint, databases that meet the quality criteria can be accessed free of charge. However, a fee is charged if the rules are used only for calculating climate impacts.

Environmental footprint to substantiate the environmental performance of products in Europe

During the past decade, the European Commission has developed the environmental footprint method in co-operation with many national and industrial operators. The Commission recommends using this method for assessing the life cycle environmental impacts of products. Currently, the Commission is gathering user experiences for improving the method. In 2021, decisions are likely to be made regarding the method’s wider use in assessing and communicating the environmental performance of products.

“Based on the EU’s new Circular Economy Action Plan launched at the beginning of March, it can be expected that the PEF method will be used for making environmental claims about products in the future", says Suikkanen.

“It is important that municipalities acquire new tools for observing climate aspects in their operations. Within the Canemure project, the City of Helsinki has been a pioneer in assessing the carbon footprint of procurements. One of the project’s goals is to spread effective practices for mitigating climate change. We also strive to share the knowledge we have gathered in Helsinki with other Finnish municipalities", says Laura Saikku, Project Leader of the Canemure project.

Low-carbon public procurements can be promoted, for example, by developing criteria for the carbon footprint and by advancing carbon footprint calculations in the procurement process. The newly published study by the Finnish Environment Institute was carried out in collaboration with the City of Helsinki. Helsinki promotes low-carbon public procurements in connection with the Canemure project. Previously, the Finnish Environment Institute has examined the effects of the environmental footprint on the Nordic Ecolabel and other integrated product policies.

Report: Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method - Use for evaluating the climate impacts of public procurement

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Further information

  • Johanna Suikkanen, Researcher, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 295 251 845, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi
  • Ari Nissinen, Development Manager, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 295 251 457, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi
  • Laura Saikku, Project Leader of the Canemure project, Senior Research Scientist, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, tel. +358 400 148 771, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi