Speaking at the Canadean Beverage Packaging event in Brussels on Tuesday, environment director Philippe Diercxens outlined the framework of the EU Commission’s pilot program on Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) rules for the bottled water category.
“Today I’m afraid to say that cost will be one of the drawbacks of the exercise. I have no solution today for SMEs – the Commission is trying to organize specific informatics tools to make things easier for them, but believe me, it won’t be easy,” he said; Danone Waters owns the Evian, Aqua, Bonafont and Mizone brands.
“I’m afraid we will create a distortion between the big companies with the means and knowledge to do this exercise, and SMEs with so many other things to do than calculate PEF. Many are struggling to survive today – and I think this will be one of the big problems,” Diercxens added.
The EU Commission wants to develop a harmonized methodology for the environmental footprint of products that includes carbon emissions.
Its goal is to establish a common European methodology to assess product performance across different food and beverage categories, with communication rules for brands.
The beverage industry is represented among a second wave of pilot projects (there are 25 cross-industry pilots underway across two waves that began on June 2) that include beer, coffee, dairy and wine as well as packaged water.
In terms of scope, this last pilot covers ‘packed natural mineral water, spring water and aerated waters not sweetened or flavored’, and is being led by the European Federation of Bottled Waters (EFBW).
The pilot studies on-the-go, foodservice and office consumption of bottled water where the representative packaging material types for each channel tends, for the most part, to be PET, glass and polycarbonate respectively.
Danone Waters sits on the technical secretariat alongside rivals Nestle Water and Italian brand Ferrarelle and Spadel, as well as other important stakeholders including FEVE (European Container Glass Federation), Petcore Europe and Quantis.
Diercxens told Brussels delegates that France inspired the Commission to act on PEF after the Sarkozy administration in 2007 set environmental management targets, one of which addressed the consumer need for information on the environmental footprint of fast-moving consumer goods.
This attracted great interest across Europe, he said, and four subsequent years of work led to a ‘global’ PEF methodology subdivided by food and beverage category.
Explaining why Danone Waters is involved in the project, Diercxens said the company was always keen to record and improve its environmental performance.
“Also, as you know we are confronted with a lot of misinterpretations in the media regarding the real environmental impact of bottled water,” Diercxens said.
“We want to show via this exercise what is the real impact compared to other products, food or non-food,” he added.
The packaged water pilot is working to define the specific environmental impact categories it will address, Diercxens explained.
“In the beginning when we talked about environmental impact, it was about carbon, carbon, carbon – but today we’re taking a broader approach looking at other impacts on the environment,” he said.
Examples of different lifecycle stages covered include: packaging material, primary packaging raw material production, packaging transportation to the factory, water extraction, gas production for sparkling water, container filling and washing.
What’s happening now? Well the pilot participants submitted their joint report for public consultation on October 8; on November 14 they will submit it to the technical advisory and steering committee chaired by the EU Commission.
“All being well, on December 16, we will have formal approval for our global approach – this is to shape the framework of the study,” Diercxens said.
Then in 2015, the bottled water pilot participants will have publish their supporting studies – exploring in-depth technical details – and also decide upon the all-important communication phase – what to communicate to the consumer about your product and how?
Diercxens describes this last phase as “really the most interesting point of the game”.
“We have to say very frankly – why is France, the EU, other governments wanting to do such things? Clearly to rank products green or non-green products – we don’t need to lie about that, that’s their real intention,” he said.
But Diercxens said Danone Waters would oppose any move by governments to categorize products as good/bad – using a traffic light-style system, say – and then perhaps tax ‘bad’ examples on environmental grounds.
“We believe in such tools [PEF],” he said. “But they need first of all to lower the environmental impact of our products – look across the life cycle, the places where we have the most environmental impact and try to find solutions for that.”
“We shouldn’t say, ‘That product is good, that product is bad'. We fought the same battle with nutritional profiling. We have ‘good’ products and ‘bad’ products in terms of nutrition, now we have the same in environmental terms,” Diercxens added.
“Our work is ongoing, but the biggest part will come next year with the in-depth technical study and the communication phase,” he said.
Participants in the French PEF beverage pilot were lent a lot of flexibility during a data communication phase in 2011/12, he said.
For instance, Nestle participated in the pilot via Nescafe, and focused on three environmental indicators: climate, depletion of non-renewable natural resources and water.
The company communicated via mobile phone applications, magazine articles and online, so mainly using what Diercxens calls “virtual communication processes”.
“As an industry we are putting a lot of pressure on the national and EU governments, saying, ‘Please do not ask us to print the information directly on the label’,” he said.
“Companies can do that if they want but we want to have the choice of communication vehicle. I’m sure most of the companies will choose to communicate through the internet, smart phones, etc.,” Diercxens added.
“Because we absolutely don’t have the space to communicate the data – it is very difficult subject to communicate to the consumer. You need explanations, text explaining to the consumer what and how. You need to communicate that via a website.”
At least the Commission is aware of this difficulty, and in its response to FAQs on the PEF policy mentions information at point of sale, on the product, websites, smartphone applications.
“We have to find the way that is most efficient and effective for conveying environmental performance information,” the EC says, in this document.