In the project “The Nordic Swan Ecolabel, Circular Economy and Product Environmental Footprint” funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) compared the Nordic Swan Ecolabel and the Product Environmental Footprint developed by the European Commission. The project also looked at the use of Nordic textile and IT companies’ ecodesign tools and green innovations.
Product environmental information should be harmonised
The environmental footprint method makes it easier for companies to make comparable calculations of their environmental impact. The company can define a product’s key environmental impacts from sixteen environmental impacts using a method based on life cycle assessment. The impact categories include, among others, climate change, depletion of mineral resources as well as impacts on the ozone layer and eutrophication.
“The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is a well-known environmental label in the Nordic countries. Consumers consider it to be reliable and a sign of progressiveness. Our study indicates that the Nordic Swan Label could make use of information on products’ environmental footprint in defining specific product group requirements. A more challenging option would be to require companies to provide environmental footprint data as part of the criteria for granting the Swan Label,” says researcher Johanna Suikkanen at SYKE.
There is a pressing need for the various systems to interact to give consumers harmonised information on products’ environmental performance and to make it easier for companies to reduce their environmental impacts. For example, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel focuses on products’ health and environmental impacts, whereas the environmental footprint method stresses products’ climate impacts and also factors in 15 other environmental impacts.
Companies need more information on new ecodesign tools
The companies in the study were not very aware of the environmental footprint method currently under development, but were interested in learning more about it.
“The reasons why companies factor in environmental issues are largely internal. The majority of the companies that responded to our survey said their actions were motivated by a general mindset and felt an obligation to act,” says researcher Hanna Salo at SYKE. “Companies in the IT and textile sectors, on the other hand, still concentrate on practical improvements to products and production methods, even though providing services to extend product lifetime could offer them an easier route that would also appeal to customers.”
Using ecodesign tools makes companies more innovative and attentive to environmental matters. The environmental footprint method under development increases shared information about where the major environmental impacts in various sectors and product groups come from. This allows companies to concentrate on the things that are most essential for them.
A common reliable database for product policy
Life cycle assessment is a basic method for defining the environmental impacts of any product or service. The environmental footprint, which was developed based on life cycle assessment, increases the accuracy, reliability and comparability of results. But there is still no actual system for managing all the data required for the environmental footprint and product-specific results.
“Going forward, the environmental footprint could be an important part of the common, reliable database needed for various ecolabels and instruments like ecodesign legislation and public procurement,” says development manager Ari Nissinen at SYKE.
Nordic coutries have cooperated for several years to coordinate expert help to the development of Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and disseminate information about PEF in Nordic countries.