What is the PEF methodology (environmental impact calculation)?

Let's start from the beginning. PEF means the Product Environmental Footprint.OK, and so what? Well, that is exactly what we are going to talk about…

What is the PEF methodology (environmental impact calculation)?

If we had to sum up, we could describe the PEF methodology as a way of assessing a product's environmental performance. How does it work? What's it for?Well get to that.

What is the PEF?

The PEF is a methodology developed by the European Commission. The objective is to take into account a product's whole life cycle (from the extraction of the raw materials to its of end of life) to determine its overall impact.

The question we use to get started with tackling this undertaking: what is this product used for?For a t-shirt, for example, this could be the possibility of being worn up to 50 times, 100 times… From this, it then becomes possible to create a framework for the life cycle stages. Again, in the case of this T-shirt, if it is worn 100 times, it will potentially be washed 100 times, which requires washing powder, energy for the washing machine, water, etc. If it was electronic equipment, it's the energy consumption during a charge cycle that would have to be taken into account…

The PEF, parent of the OEF

The purpose of the Organisation's Environmental Footprint, or OEF, is to evaluate an organisation's impact for a given period.In that sense, it is closer to a company's carbon footprint. The OEF is interesting for taking good strategic decisions at the level of an organisation.

In both cases, whether we are referring to PEF or the OEF, it is about assessing the environmental impact relating to other indicators other than simply climate change.

What is the PEF methodology (environmental impact calculation)

What is the PEF for?

The aim of the PEF is to specify the standards, to standardise how to carry out life cycle analyses, specify the modelling rules for a product category, apply similar rules within the European Union...This “alignment” is also an important part of this methodology: based on internationally accepted International Standards Organisation (ISO) standards, e.g. 14040 and 14044 standards, it is a tried, tested and approved method.
The methodology has also been referenced in the European Commission's draft legislation published in March 2022.

How is the methodology rolled out at Decathlon ?

The PEF's benefit is to, therefore, help raise awareness about the environmental impacts of what we put on the market. Having said that, drawing up a life cycle analysis requires real expertise: you have to know the tools, standards, etc. At DECATHLON, we've subsequently decided to support designers, help them make the right choices, and make product offer managers aware of their responsibilities… in particular, by systematising the evaluation of products as part of engineers' everyday job tasks.

The PEF subsequently acts as an accelerator: you no longer need to ask yourself all the questions from scratch for each product because the PEF already clarifies what is critical to assess and how to do it.

The PEF now sets out a product's general assessment rules.The European Commission also coordinates detailed work to specify these rules by product type (nutrition, clothing, footwear...).

The rules specific to clothing and footwear are still in the process of being fleshed out, and DECATHLON is contributing to this work. It is nevertheless possible to now apply the latest developments in PEF and the work specific to clothing and footwear, which is what we do at DECATHLON.

What does "implementing the key features of PEF" mean?

The PEF is like having a big calculator: we input data to start off with (for example, raw materials, where the manufacturing, dyeing,... steps are done) and convert them into environmental impact equivalents thanks to a database.
To implement this at Decathlon, we use an external tool,”Glimpact” (developed by the Yukan company). It then becomes more of an IT challenge: you have to be able to integrate it into the engineers' job. What this means is that the designers' software has had to evolve so all the data can be selectable within the tool.
All this is at the service of one idea: make all teams aware that data quality is vital to get a good quality PEF score.

How can this method be used? What is the point of rating products?

A government could very well imagine levying a tax on a product if it pollutes more than the market average.
The PEF could become a comparison tool for consumers when purchasing a product. The PEF method is a way to help understand a product's impact (and improve it), but not an end in itself.

What is the PEF methodology (environmental impact calculation)

How, in practical terms, is this conveyed to the consumer, how is it displayed?

Not only is the aim to clarify the calculation rules, but also the way they are then translated.
That is why, ever since its implementation, the way it is displayed has evolved.There is, in the end, lots of information to share!

To get an idea of how the display options have evolved (here is a test put forward based on joint experiments with Tape à l'Oeil, Camaieu & the Beaumanoir group):

What is the PEF methodology (environmental impact calculation)

So is PEF score like a Nutri-score ?

Not really:the PEF score gives us a result. It is not like an ABCDE score, with the idea that it's “good or not good”, it's a number, for example, like a price.
It is then up to the consumer to compare and decide what is acceptable or not to them.
What is currently complicated is that, as opposed to a price, the order of magnitude doesn't exist, well, not at the moment anyway.
Because as part of the PEF score, the number includes the whole life cycle, as opposed to the price, which does not include maintenance, for example. A t-shirt will cost the same price, whether you wear it once or a thousand times. Here, the number could be different: the impact will not be the same because it depends on the number of uses.
It is part of the elements that still need a framework and will probably still evolve.

Does this PEF score have anything to do with the AGEC legislation?

Yes, because it has to do with environmental issues.
The AGEC legislation requires input data (hazardous substances, precious metals, dyeing, spinning mill origin …). This legislation should help to speed up some data at times difficult until now to get a hold of (such as the clothing supply chain). There are however, differences: the PEF does not require the measurement of certain items (such as the composting packaging), where as the AGEC legislation has made other choices, such as packaging.

We are talking about Europe, but what about in Asia, for example? What is happening elsewhere?
There are equivalent private initiatives analysing the life cycle and sometimes even research on the subject. But today, from an institutional standpoint, it's France and then Europe that have been leading the way.

The issue is far from over. There is, for example, an issue with the PEF score and planetary boundaries: we can lower the impact of climate change but if this reduction leads to an increase in water consumption… How do you arbitrate these issues? The concept of avoided emissions is partially integrated into PEF, but this question about how the business model will evolve to a circular economy, is also a critical challenge. We are still at the beginning…