Navigating Environmental footprint in Swedish industry
Highlighting the environmental impact of products from a life cycle perspective is becoming increasingly vital. Aiming to enhance awareness and implementation, the project “Environmental Footprint in Swedish Industry” focused on familiarizing the Swedish industry with the EU’s Environmental Footprint framework. Now concluded, the project has deepened insights into the framework, its implementation, and the ability to navigate future regulations.
The primary goal of the project was to explore the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method and understand its potential impacts on the Swedish industry. The project included two case studies. One studied the modelling impact on climate change with focus on biogenic carbon in interlinked product systems and in long living products. The other looked at the consequences of using the Circular Footprint Formula, which is part of the PEF framework, in the automotive industry, specifically in batteries. Besides the case studies several meetings were held in Swedish Life Cycle Center Environmental Footprint Expert group to give input on case studies and to follow ongoing development on the EU level.
Challenges with the framework
The case studies revealed critical issues and suggested improvements for Environmental Footprint modeling. Challenges with the Circular Footprint Formula include complexity and lack of clear guidance. A specific concern is raised about the effective use of Circular Footprint Formula to differentiate between materials from before and after consumer use.
Additionally, there was a lack of specific guidance on biogenic carbon content modelling, especially for products from renewable resources. The current simplified approach may not be enough as there is a growing expectation to report biogenic carbon content. The project highlighted challenges with data availability and interpretation, leading to non-comparable results.
Asking Erika Kloow, leader of the case study “Modelling of biogenic carbon following the guidance in the PEF method”, about learnings from the project, she highlights understanding how the Circular Footprint Formula allocation approach compares to other methods. She also highlights the usefulness of dividing the formula into different life cycle steps, to help when interpreting the results.
“As it is not defined in the PEF method how the biogenic carbon content of the material should be allocated between product systems, a more detailed presentation of the results visualized the impact of the assumptions made in the modelling,” says Erika Kloow, Senior expert, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
Increased understanding and preparation
The case studies increased the understanding of consequences and effects of method choices for different industries in Sweden. They have enhanced the grasp of Environmental Footprint methodology and the practical use of PEF. This understanding prepares Swedish industries and stakeholders to implement Environmental Footprint practices.
Expert groups and other dialogue meetings have expanded the network of people that have knowledge about Environmental Footprint, fostering collaboration between Swedish actors to both share knowledge and to manage Environmental Footprint. An open webinar that presented the results was held in October.
Torun Hammar, leader of the case study “Application of the Circular Footprint Formula within the automotive industry”, expresses challenges of ensuring the understanding of the methodology and finding the right data, but also the advantage of discussing the issues with other partners.
“Participating in the case study was valuable for gaining a deeper understanding of the PEF method, and how to apply the Circular Footprint Formula in practice. It was valuable to collaborate with several industry partners to learn more about the industry’s perspective and the challenges they face,” says Torun Hammar, Researcher at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.
What is next?
Both studies stress the need for explicit guidelines and standardized approaches within the PEF framework to improve the accuracy of environmental impact assessments of products.
Closing data gaps and sharing relevant data for Environmental Footprint studies are essential, along with conducting feasibility tests to assess Environmental Footprint methods applicability, aligning with upcoming EU policies. Balancing complexity and simplicity is crucial for widespread adoption, and further case studies are recommended to explore this dynamic.
For Partners in the Center and Government agencies and SMEs in collaboration with the Center the Expert group Environmental footprint will continue to arrange meetings during 2024.