Why we should generalise our environmental footprint
16 January 2020
Nasser Kahil, Lyreco QSS Director, questions the effects of generalising environmental footprint in the industry.
Since 2015, Lyreco, the leading European distributor and third largest global distributor of workplace solutions for businesses has been involved in a European project initiated by the European Commission: the EU Product Environmental Footprint (EU PEF).
In 2019, a major step has been taken: Lyreco was the first BtoB company to publish the environmental performance of its own brand product: Lyreco Laundry Liquid through the EU Product Environmental Footprint.
Cleaning products represent one of those tricky topics in our modern industrial societies, as it became clearer that, often, getting rid of a rather small and contained mess comes at the cost of creating an even larger one, in terms of the environmental impact.
The range of concerns includes the actual incidence that the related industry might have on nature, wildlife, climate, water etc, and also the individual customers’ health and sanitary preoccupations about the detergents used daily at work and other public spaces.
“Green” ranges and brands as well as specific Ecolabels have been developed by both national public authorities and private companies and their trade federations. For instance, 73 national and transnational ecolabels can be applied to detergents, from generic ones such as EU Ecolabel to specific ones such as AISE Charter for sustainable cleaning (Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance products).
This over-abundance of labels and certifications leads to more confusion that insight in the consumer’s mind; As there is no guidance to what each one specifically targets and how to navigate this rather obscure ocean of information resources: What is measured exactly? At which stage of the product life cycle? Does it concern only the components? Does It take into account transportation; and packaging? Are we talking about carbon emission or does it take into account other impacts such as impact on water, wildlife, nature, health?
This complexity only reflects a lack of maturity regarding how to address these issues. And, as a distributor, our position in the supply chain comes with responsibilities and duties to provide our customers with transparent, clear and complete information on these points.
This is why we have welcome the new EU PEF evaluation method, a harmonised, scientifically based framework and methodology that takes the whole lifecycle of a product into account, as a major milestone and key helper into directing the efforts wisely and hence fulfilling these legitimate demands. Approved by the European Commission in April 2018, the PEF methodology will create a single label to help consumers make their purchasing decisions based on major ecological issues such as mineral resources, small particulates, the acidification of water etc.
The PEF initiative: A powerful tool to ensure the circular economy
The introduction of the EU PEF methodology is a major step in the fields of environmental impact measurement and consumer information. It will definitely support European purchasers and end-users to prioritise a green and sustainable approach in their purchasing practices.
The life-cycle perspective of the PEF reflects the essence of the Circular Economy. This means by addressing the impact on each stage of the life cycle, PEF enables the conception of a better design of products through reduction of material uses and waste recycling.
By scoring on 16 criteria such as depletion of natural resources, climate change, water consumption, eutrophication and impact on human health among others, PEF identifies elements with a high environmental impact and therefore ways to find alternatives to mitigate them.
Our ambition is to make the EU PEF a new criterion of choice for consumers and a lever of development and innovation for the ecological transition.
Retailers as key players in the promotion of the evaluation method
Retailers have a major role to play in this new ecosystem as they are the link between consumers and brands.
It is only fair to be taking initiatives regarding our transport fleet, packaging and logistics to reduce our environmental impact as much as possible. However, if we want to ensure our commitments, we must also act with regard to the manufacturers of products. That’s why we should engage our suppliers in the PEF approach and obtain commitments from them, even before PEF becomes mandatory. As a distributor this is our responsibility.
The providers/constructors and the retailers have to take a common stand and make the best use of the opportunity to integrate this new approach in the definition of their goals and strategies when it comes to sustainable development. One of the first steps, and major milestones of the initiative aiming to reduce the environmental impact of the product is performing an accurate assessment on the current situation.
By encouraging the suppliers to measure and evaluate their own products, they will be greatly contributing in enriching the referential basis with field knowledge, and hence tailoring the study to the reality of the industry which can only strengthen the confidence that is put on the results.
I am convinced that the PEF is a real solution for reducing the ecological footprint of products and providing the transparency that consumers expect. We are aware of the economic and industrial difficulties involved in this approach, but we must dare to question ourselves in the face of the environmental challenges that the world needs to address urgently.