The environmental impact of European flax

The European Flax and Hemp Alliance (flax datas warranties), is committing the industry to measuring its impacts using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), in line with the European PEF method (Product Environmental Footprint). An environmental trajectory for continuous improvement.

Flax-linen environmental foot print

Data: the challenges of reliability, transparency and accessibility

impact environnement lin

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a multi-criteria method used to measure the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle, from raw material to end of life, accounting for packaging, distribution and use. The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) contains instructions for its 16 impact categories and overall score to ensure that new PEF studies will be more reproducible, comparable and verifiable compared with existing approaches and ISO standards. This is the method recommended by the European Commission.

The European flax industry has come together to provide reliable, qualitative data that is 100% representative of all European flax materials and processes. Its goal is to meet consumer expectations with respect to sustainable products and to prepare industry players for regulatory changes.

This is achieved by choosing a method - primarily the European PEF method - and by working together to populate the databases:

  • European Commission: Creating the PEF incorporated vast amounts of database work (see below).
  • The Higg Index: The Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) was developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
  • Ecoinvent: The mission of ecoinvent, an association, is primarily to publish environmental data in its ecoinvent database, a global leader.

Through its collaborations and through its structuring efforts, the Alliance aims to:

  • Position flax data in its rightful place, on a European basis, with its agricultural and industrial specificities.
  • Increase the transparency of the technical itineraries and industrial processes employed
  • Make data available to businesses and brands modelling products made from European materials and processing, while highlighting the European Flax and Masters of Linencertifications

Finally, as a voting member of the PEF Apparel & Footwear technical secretariat, the Alliance for European Flax-Linen & Hemp is helping to draft the PEF sectorial rules for apparel and footwear, and to make sure that the unique characteristics of flax are considered.

Collaborative work with stakeholders at the European level and public consultations (2020-2025).

Travaux structurants Alliance copyright Alliance

The environmental footprint of European Flax™ fibre

As step one of this eco-responsible strategy, strategic data was made available in the LCA of European Flax™ scutched flax fibre published in 2022 with a set of deliverables (the study, overview, dataset and user guide):

  • robust: compliant with PEF methodology with 16 impact categories verified by one critical review
  • qualitative: field data that is 100% specific to flax grown and scutched in France, Belgium and the Netherlands
  • representative of Western European fibres and of assemblies that are made of linen yarn and textiles, including European Flax and/or Masters of Linencertified materials.

This level of excellence is the direct result of several areas of expertise:

  • Agronomic reference institutes with a focus on flax growing: Arvalis - Institut du Végétal in France and Inagro in Belgium and the Netherlands
  • Flax trade organisations and Economics Department at the Alliance for collecting and consolidating statistical data 
  • the Yukan consulting firm with Glimpact, an innovative digital technology for calculating PEF. Critical review by Maki Consulting.

This study measures the environmental impact of the rational practices of European flax: no irrigation barring exceptional circumstances, crop rotations with reasonable use of fertiliser and pesticides, etc. It is non-comparative, as it is up to brands and consumers to make their choices. It also contains some important lessons, such as the remarkably low impact of two categories:

  • Water consumption: 2% of the overall score due to zero irrigation 
  • Eutrophication, freshwater: 1%, due to low fertiliser needs, including phosphorus.

On the other hand, the biggest impact is land use, which accounts for 39% of the total. This is consistent with the agricultural origins of flax.

Lin et impact environnemental copyright Alliance S. Randé

Accessibility and updates:

  • January 2023: European Flax™ scutched fibre dataset EF 3.1
    The impact data were updated as part of the European Commission’s EF 3.1 database as part of a joint project between the Alliance (CELC) and a consortium commissioned by the EC and led by ecoinvent and Blonk Consultants (the Alliance and consortium signed a cooperation agreement). This dataset and the entire 3.1 database are available free of charge for calculating impact on the basis of the PEF method. They are available in the European database, on the primary LCA software solutions such as SimaPro, and on tools for calculating PEF like Glimpact.
  • Life Cycle Inventory impact data in the ecoinvent database
    Ecoinvent is a global leader in life cycle data, which then populates the main LCA software solutions. In 2023, the Alliance and ecoinvent signed a cooperation agreement to ensure access to reliable data for users of European Flax fibre from Western Europe. Since Europe accounts for three-quarters of global flax fibre production, using Europe-specific practices, this data will be extremely useful, especially for industries with no PEFCR. Calculations are underway to ensure integration with the ecoinvent database.

An eco-friendly strategy across all links in the processing chain

In December 2021, the Alliance launched an LCA project and embarked on an eco-friendly strategy with its members. This large-scale project aims to mobilise and support each link in the chain and each business by focusing on two goals:

  • collectively, on calculating and publishing average impact data for each process within Europe
  • individually, on implementing their own eco-friendly strategy by measuring impacts and identifying ways of reducing them

This pre-competitive partnership helps build collective tools together, pool time and financial resources, and provide dedicated support and advice from the Alliance’s teams and its experts at COSE361 and Yukan. 

Pilot phase - the first deliverables:

  • Mapping of processes for European Flax-Linen
    Identifies the production and processing stages for long and short fibres: process and flow of material inputs and outputs.
    Facilitates dialogue among brands, their flax value chain, their LCA experts, as well as the search for relevant datasets. The Mapping of processes for European Flax-Linen is available in the media library.
  • Data collection templates tailored to each process (not public).

Deployment phase - currently underway:

Each stage of long and short European Flax fibre processing is the subject of a dedicated dataset measuring environmental footprint, representative of the industry average in Europe:

  • Re-scutched short fibres 
  • Hackling 
  • Preparation for weaving, long fibres
  • Wet spinning
  • Dry spinning
  • Weaving
  • Knitting

Deliverables are expected in the second half of 2023, to be made available in the European databases in 2024. 

By organising this collective effort, the Alliance is also supporting its members in calculating the impact of their own processes, in order to provide an even more tailored response to the requests of their clients, and to manage their performance with the goal of continuous improvement.

ACV fibre de lin européen teillée Alliance

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