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George Michalopoulos

George Michalopoulos

Meeting with a PCR Moderator: George Michalopoulos at RodaxAgro

Product Category Rules (PCR) are the underlying rules for all EPDs and developed in industry-driven initiatives with input from any interested stakeholder. Developing such a document thus requires strong co-ordination efforts by the appointed PCR Moderator. We met with George Michalopoulos at RodaxAgro - an experienced PCR Moderator who has been involved in PCRs for olive oil, kiwis and other - to get the inside view.

What is your role as a PCR Moderator in the International EPD® System?
Το identify key players that must be invited to participate as co-authors, or later during the consultation phase. Then, to draft the PCR working document and to coordinate discussions between the authors’ team and with the stakeholders later, in the consultation phase.

Discussion during these two phases is an intense exercise of learning from experts with a variety of interests, experiences and specializations. The role of the moderator from the start to the end is to try to smooth any differences so that the final draft of the PCR has the widest possible acceptance. And to deal with newly emerging situations through the active life of the PCR.

What are the main challenges when developing a PCR?
Challenges are the main reason for becoming a moderator, and there are several of them.

  • First it is to «balance». While seeking for «where is the added value» in the PCR, not to forget «what can go wrong» with some of its provisions. Also, how much transparency to how much protection of trade secrets? Can a ‘black box’ EPD be credible? On the other hand, can an extensive account of first class data be attractive, or merely interesting? And then, cost vs value of an EPD for the given sector. Primary data collection is tedious and costly, but how else can a business find its opportunities for improvement? Generic data on the other hand are handier and lower cost, but rather short-range ammunition. What is the real value for the market of a generic data based EPD? If the right balance is achieved, the PCR will come out equally ‘sexy’ and valuable.
  • Diverging opinions during the creation of the PCR is another challenge. Solutions have to make everybody happy. A moderator is no king Solomon. Help may be needed by the Secretariat and Technical Committee of the International EPD® System.
  • Consistency to other similar PCRs and to published literature. As a starting point, a new PCR has to fit well in its environment. However, it is always tempting to introduce novel aspects to be debated, so as to contribute to the further development of LCA approach.

Which was the most interesting challenge for you so far?
To promote the view that data quality required should be proportional to the significance of the impact to the environment, irrespective of the distance from the business that intends to develop an EPD. This of course is hard to be accepted, as the cost for obtaining primary data is higher if the ‘guilty’ link is remote in the LCA chain. And it becomes harder if primary data would be linked to the requirement for a robust quality system, to allow full traceability to data sources, so that the reviewer is content. All this may sound too ideal, but credibility is a product of high value.

What knowledge and qualities makes a good PCR Moderator?
Experienced enough to be able to carry out an educated SWAT environmental analysis for the sector and able to understand the drivers of each stakeholder.

What can the International EPD® System do to stimulate the market to develop PCRs for new product categories?
The answer is generic for the EPD, not only PCRs. I am afraid that the recognition of any multi-criteria approach, although environmentally more complete, it is not readily comprehensible by the wider market or by the public, at least not in south Europe where I am active. So, a campaign to simplify, educate and increase awareness of EPD would be a valuable investment for environmental improvement. A more consumers’ oriented logo available for product labelling could help a lot.

What is the current status of EPDs and PCR development in Greece?
It is not strange that it started from agriculture, as Greece is still at large a farming country. EPD is an ideal vehicle for promotion of food products as it gives the opportunity to document the specific quality features of a product and link them to its environmental performance. There are two EPDs so far, one for Extra Virgin Olive Oil and one on Kiwi fruits. On the PCR front there is some interest for other businesses e.g. cotton and hotels, but no activity yet. The economic crisis of the last years made thing move even slower.

How do you see EPD in relation to the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) initiative?
I maintain the view that EPD can be a flexible vanguard for the PEF and that they can be mutually benefited, as they more or less speak the same language. PEF can be benefited by the long experience and professionalism of the EPD who can act as a tugboat for PEF towards its policy objectives. EPD in turn can benefit by the authoritative status that EU offers to the multi-criteria approach, the support and the resources of EU mechanism for its establishment in the market and the public opinion. Finally, the synergy between the two can enhance the benefit to the business. An example of such a synergy was founded about 15 years ago in Greece, when the ‘national’ standard AGRO-2 based on ISO 14001 preceded the introduction of EUREPGAP, incorporating most of its requirements. Today, Greece is one of the leading countries for GLOBALGAP, while its national counterpart AGRO-2 is a main tool of agricultural policy, promoting the same good practices.