1/ How is the new Freshfel Environmental Footprint Initiative progressing?
In light of upcoming EU legislation requiring environmental footprint accountability and increasing demand along the chain for product sustainability data for supply chain actors and customers alike, there is a growing need for a standardized environmental footprint methodology for the fresh produce sector. While many operators have calculated their own environmental footprints for some time, there is a large variety in methodology and data used, resulting in product footprints that are incomparable, unverifiable and lack transparency.
The Freshfel Environmental Footprint Initiative was launched in April 2022 as a collaborative effort to develop an objective, standardized environmental footprint methodology, database and digital tool for the fresh produce sector that is broadly accepted by the industry, stakeholders as well as consumers. The Initiative marks a new level of cooperation on this complex and technical subject within the fresh produce sector. Freshfel Europe members participating in the Initiative include Ailimpo, ANPP, Apeel Sciences, Assomela, Bama Gruppen, Bayer AG, BVEO, COLEACP, Dole plc, Greenyard, Fresh Produce Centre, IG International, Interfel, VBT and Zespri in addition to Freshfel Europe as a sector-wide representative.
Work within the Initiative is now well underway. Early this year the Initiative decided to align with the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology as recommended by the European Commission. The PEF methodology is likely to be employed by the European Commission in upcoming legislation impacting the fresh produce sector on substantiating green claims and a harmonised EU sustainability labelling framework for food among others.
Accordingly, the Initiative will develop Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) specific to the fruit and vegetable sector to ensure comparable results of PEF calculations.
2/ What is the expected impact of the initiative in the medium term, i.e. within 5 years?
The fresh produce PEFCR will be developed over the next two years from 2023-2024. When the European Commission’s PEF programme re-opens to new projects, the Initiative will join this so that the fresh produce PEFCR developed by the fresh fruit and vegetable industry is the sector standard at the EU level. This is likely to take place during the PEFCR development.
Once the fresh produce PEFCR is developed, it will be an open resource. The whole fruit and vegetable sector, both in the EU and further afield, may benefit from the use of the methodology. To aid the use of the PEFCR, which is quite technical, the Initiative aims to develop an accompanying user-friendly digital tool to aid environmental footprint calculations. Through the use of the PEFCR and digital tool, higher access to environmental footprint calculations and data will be given to operators within the sector. This will facilitate, for example, hot spot identification, product sustainability innovation and targeted resource allocation to name a few. Over the medium and long term, this work will enhance the industry’s overall sustainability and maintain its competitiveness with other food sectors.
3/ Can you explain how it aims to be more inclusive for the whole supply chain and used by the whole sector, versus other methods already being used?
The Initiative has teamed up with Wageningen Economic Research to develop the fresh produce PEFCR. The PEF methodology is based on 16 impact categories and is tested on ‘virtual’ (theoretical) representative products, in the case of fresh produce, one for fruit and one for vegetables respectively. This is to ensure all products in the sector can use the PEFCR.
In addition to sectorial guidance provided by Initiative members, the PERCR will be open for public consultation twice during its development. Operators in the fresh produce sector as well as any other stakeholder may comment on the technical development of the PEFCR.
As the state-of-the-art methodology, we expect there to be widespread uptake of the PEFCR. However, this is only the start of the journey. The Initiative will follow innovations in the environmental footprint arena to keep the sector abreast of legislative and market developments beyond the PEFCR development.
Nicola Pisano is Freshfel Europe Director Sustainability & Communications, heading the Association’s sustainability work since 2017.
Freshfel Europe is driving fresh produce sustainability discussions at EU and global levels to ensure environmental and economic sector sustainability.
Hailing from Australia, Nicola previously worked at the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) and has a background in urban and regional planning.