Skip to main content

Challenges with product environmental footprint: a systematic review



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?


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.


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Allacker K, Mathieux F, Pennington D, Pant R (2017) The search for an appropriate end-of-life formula for the purpose of the European commission environmental footprint initiative. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22(9):1441–1458

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bach V, Lehmann A, Görmer M, Finkbeiner M (2018) Product environmental footprint (PEF) pilot phase: Comparability over flexibility? Sustainability 10(8):2898

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • BDI (2015) Design product environmental footprint (PEF) in a reasonable and consistent way!. Retrieved from

  • Chomkhamsri K, Pelletier N (2011) Analysis of existing environmental footprint methodologies for products and organizations: recommendations, rationale, and alignment. Ispra, Italy. Inst Environ Sustainab

  • Cimini A, Moresi M (2018) Are the present standard methods effectively useful to mitigate the environmental impact of the 99% EU food and drink enterprises? Trends Food Sci Tech 77:42

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Corradini G, Pierobon F, Zanetti M (2019) Product environmental footprint of a cross-laminated timber system: A case study in Italy. Int J Life Cycle Assess 24(5):975–988

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cristóbal J, Matos CT, Aurambout J, Manfredi S, Kavalov B (2016) Environmental sustainability assessment of bioeconomy value chains. Biomass Bioenerg 89:159–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Del Borghi A, Moreschi L, Gallo M (2020) Communication through ecolabels: how discrepancies between the EU PEF and EPD schemes could affect outcome consistency. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 25(5) 905–920.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Durão V, de Brito J, Mateus R, Silvestre JD (2020) Assessment and communication of the environmental performance of construction products in Europe: comparison between PEF and EN 15804 compliant EPD schemes. Resource Conserv 156:104703

  • Egas D, Katsou E, Colon J, Stanchev P, Ponsá S, Vasilaki V (2019) Implementation of the product environmental footprint category rules for dairy products: an approach to assess nitrogen emissions in a mass balanced dairy farm system. J Clean Prod 215:1149–1159

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • European Commission (2011) Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe. Brussels: COM(2011) 571 final

  • European Commission (2017) PCR guidance document Guidance for the development of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PCRs), version 6.3

  • European Commission (2020a) A farm to fork strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system. Brussels: COM(2020) 381 final

  • European Commission (2020b) A new circular economy action plan for a cleaner and more competitive Europe. Brussels: COM/2020/98 final

  • Finkbeiner M (2014) Product environmental footprint: breakthrough or breakdown for policy implementation of life cycle assessment? Int J Life Cycle Assess 19(2):266–271

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Galatola M, Pant R (2014) Reply to the editorial “product environmental footprint--breakthrough or breakdown for policy implementation of life cycle assessment?” Written by Prof. Finkbeiner (Int J Life Cycle Assess 19(2):266–271). Int J Life Cycle Asses 19(6):1356–1360

  • Golsteijn L, Lessard L, Campion J-F, Capelli A, D’Enfert V, King H, Coroama M (2018) Developing product environmental footprint category rules (PCR) for shampoos: the basis for comparable life cycle assessment. Integr Environ Assess 14(5):649–659

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Golsteijn L, Vieira M (2019) Applicability of the European environmental footprint (EF) methodology in southern Mediterranean countries: learnings and recommendations for enabling EF-compliant studies in regions outside of Europe. Int J Life Cycle Assess 25:2407–2416

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gül S, Spielmann M, Lehmann A, Eggers D, Bach V, Finkbeiner M (2015) Benchmarking and environmental performance classes in life cycle assessment: development of a procedure for non-leather shoes in the context of the product environmental footprint. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20(12):1640–1648

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hohenthal C, Dobon A, Forsström U, Hortal M, Kujanpää M, Leon J, Ringman J (2019) The ISO 14067 approach to open-loop recycling of paper products: making it operational. J Clean Prod 224:264–274

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Iraldo F (2018) Green marketing: How can a product’s environmental footprint by effectively communicated to consumers? A case study with Carlsberg beer. EEEP 2018(2):167–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jesson JK, Matheson L, Lacey FM (2011) Doing your literature review: traditional and systematic techniques. Sage Publications, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Kuo T, Lee Y, (2019) Using Pareto Optimization to Support Supply Chain Network Design within Environmental Footprint Impact Assessment. Sustainability 11(2):452.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lansche J, Koch P, Mouron P, Gaillard, G (2016) Methodological challenges posed by the environmental product declaration for agricultural products. [Methodische herausforderungen bei der umweltproduktdeklaration von landwirtschaftsprodukten; Sfide metodologiche nella dichiarazione ambientale di prodotto per i prodotti agricoli] Agrarforsch Schweiz 7(3):144–149

  • Lehmann A, Bach V, Finkbeiner M (2015) Product environmental footprint in policy and market decisions: applicability and impact assessment. Integr Environ Assess 11(3):417

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lehmann A, Finkbeiner M, Bach V (2016) EU product environmental footprint: mid-term review of the pilot phase. Sustainability 8(1):92

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lupiáñez-Villanueva F, Tornese P, Veltri AG, Gaskell G (2018) Assessment of different communication vehicles for providing environmental footprint information. European Comm Director Gen Environ

  • Manfredi S, Allacker K, Pelletier N, Schau E, Chomkhamsri K, Pant R, Pennington D (2015) Comparing the European commission product environmental footprint method with other environmental accounting methods. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20(3):389–404

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Masoni P (2017). Made Green in Italy: a Voluntary Label Scheme Based on PEF.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mengarelli M, Neugebauer S, Finkbeiner M, Germani M, Buttol P, Reale F (2017) End-of-life modelling in life cycle assessment: material or product-centred perspective? Int J Life Cycle Assess 22(8):1288–1301

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Minkov N, Lehmann A, Finkbeiner M (2020) The product environmental footprint communication at the crossroad: integration into or co-existence with the European eco-label? Int J Life Cycle Assess 25(3):508–522

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Minkov N, Schneider L, Lehmann A, Finkbeiner M (2015) Type III environmental declaration programmes and harmonization of product category rules: status quo and practical challenges. J Clean Prod 94:235–246

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirzaie S, Thuring M, Allacker K (2020) End-of-life modelling of buildings to support more informed decisions towards achieving circular economy targets. Int J Life Cycle Assess.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muñoz I, Schmidt JH, Brandão M, Weidema BP (2014) Avoiding the streetlight effect: Rebuttal to ‘Indirect land use change (iLUC) within life cycle assessment (LCA) — scientific robustness and consistency with international standards’ by Prof. Dr. Matthias Finkbeiner. 2.-0 LCA Consultants

  • Ojala E, Uusitalo V, Virkki-hatakka T, Niskanen A, Soukka R (2016) Assessing product environmental performance with PEF methodology: reliability, comparability, and cost concerns. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21(8):1092–1105

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Partl H, Schryver AD, Baitz M, Busa A (2019) Diving into the details of PEF/OEF training 26 may 2019, UNEP/SETAC conference Helsinki. Retrieved from

  • Passer A, Lasvaux S, Allacker K, De Lathauwer D, Spirinckx C, Wittstock B, Wallbaum H (2015) Environmental product declarations entering the building sector: critical reflections based on 5 to 10 years’ experience in different European countries. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20(9):1199–1212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Poolsawad N, Jirajariyavech A, Mungkalasiri J, Datchaneekul K, Suksatit P, Wisansuwannakorn R, Thanungkano W (2017) Thai national life cycle inventory readiness for product environmental footprint. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22(11):1731–1743

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pyay S, Mungkalasiri J, Musikavong C, Thanungkano W (2019) A life cycle assessment of intermediate rubber products in Thailand from the product environmental footprint perspective. J Clean Prod 237: 117632

  • Raffn J, Averbuch B, Dalgaard T, Djomo SN, Hauschild MZ, Hermansen JE (2019) Obligatory inclusion of uncertainty avoids systematic underestimation of danish pork water use and incentivizes provision of specific inventory data. J Clean Prod 233:1355–1365

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Russo C, Cappelletti GM, Nicoletti GM, Michalopoulos G, Pattara C, Palomino JAP, Tuomisto HL (2016) Product environmental footprint in the olive oil sector: State of the art. Environ Eng Manag J 15(9):2019–2027.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saouter E, Schryver AD, Pant R, Sala S (2018) Estimating chemical ecotoxicity in EU eco-label and in EU product environmental footprint. Environment Int 118:44–47

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saouter E, Aschberger K, Fantke P, Hauschild MZ, Bopp SK, Kienzler A, Sala S (2017) Improving substance information in USEtox®, part 1: discussion on data and approaches for estimating freshwater ecotoxicity effect factors. Environ Toxicol Chem 36(12):3450–3462

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schrijvers D, Loubet P, Sonnemann G (2016) Critical review of guidelines against a systematic framework with regard to consistency on allocation procedures for recycling in LCA. Int J Life Cycle Asses 21(7):994–1008.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Six L, De Wilde B, Vermeiren F, Van Hemelryck S, Vercaeren M, Zamagni A, De Meester S (2017) Using the product environmental footprint for supply chain management: lessons learned from a case study on pork. Int J Life Cycle Asses 22(9):1354–1372

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Technical secretariat decorative paints (2018) Product environmental footprint category rules: decorative Paints, version 1. European Council of the Paint, Printing Ink and Artists' Colours Industry

  • Wade A, Stolz P, Frischknecht R, Heath G, Sinha P (2018) The product environmental footprint (PEF) of photovoltaic modules: lessons learned from the environmental footprint pilot phase on the way to a single market for green products in the European Union. Prog Photovoltaics 26(8):553–564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walker S, Rothman R (2020) Life cycle assessment of bio-based and fossil-based plastic: a review. J Clean Prod 261:121158

  • Zampori L, Pant R (2019) Suggestions for updating the product environmental footprint (PEF) method. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg

    Google Scholar 

Download references


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


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

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emil Pedersen.

Additional information

Communicated by Matthias Finkbeiner.

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pedersen, E., Remmen, A. Challenges with product environmental footprint: a systematic review. Int J Life Cycle Assess 27, 342–352 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


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