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Challenges with product environmental footprint: a systematic review

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to review the current literature on Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) to answer the following questions: (1) What have the methodological issues been in the discussion on PEF, and how do the suggested updates address them? (2) What are the challenges of using PEF in policies and how can these be resolved?

Method

The research questions were answered through a structured literature review of publications on the PEF method. The search was conducted in three databases, Scopus, ProQuest, and ScienceDirect, using the search words “Product Environmental Footprint,” “Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules,” and “PEFCR.”

Results and discussion

The methodological issues in the PEF method have caused ongoing discussions. Some of the identified issues have been addressed by a subsequent update of the PEF guidance, but there are still some significant issues. These are as follows: The defined functional units in the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) are inadequate to ensure a fair comparison of products, impact categories for biodiversity and indirect land use change are still being developed, the existing and new PEFCR need to adopt a benchmarking method, uncertainty exists about how the costs of making an LCA study are affected by PEF, and it is unclear how the results of a PEF study should be communicated.

Conclusion

The PEF method could play an essential role in developing a market for green products, but it has met substantial criticism from academia. Some of the issues identified in the criticism are addressed by the updated PEF method, but there are still significant issues that should be addressed to improve the PEF method.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Associate Professor Anja Marie Bundgaard for her comments, questions, and ideas for improvements.

Funding

The Manufacturing Academy of Denmark funds this study as part of the research and innovation program MADE FAST.

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Correspondence to Emil Pedersen.

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Communicated by Matthias Finkbeiner.

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Pedersen, E., Remmen, A. Challenges with product environmental footprint: a systematic review. Int J Life Cycle Assess 27, 342–352 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-022-02022-3

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Keywords

  • Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)
  • Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR)
  • LCA
  • Policy
  • Barriers