UK firms 'at an advantage' with new international sustainable procurement standard

7 December 2015

British companies are likely to be at an advantage compared to overseas rivals when it comes to adopting a new international sustainable procurement standard, one of the prime movers behind its development has said.

ISO 20400, the brainchild of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), describes how procurement impacts sustainability, gives definitions of sustainable procurement and sets out how to implement it.

Shaun McCarthy, director of Action Sustainability, who has led the UK delegation working on ISO 20400, said the standard, which is set to be adopted in 40 nations from November 2017, was closely modelled on the existing British standard BS 8903.

"British companies will find it easier to adopt than other European countries,” he said. “It is most certainly an advantage for the UK because of the existing familiarity with BS 8903.”

He said that early in ISO 20400's development there was a suggestion that the proposal should be based on a French standard, but this was “roundly rejected” by most delegates.

McCarthy urged buyers to pay attention to the new benchmark now even though it is a year away from introduction.

“If procurement managers want to keep up with best practice and to be ahead of the game then it is really helpful for them to know about the standard now,” he said.
 ”It's an opportunity for them to think about how they will develop compliance next year.”

How much difference it will make to procurement professionals depends, as he puts it, on “where they are on their sustainable procurement journey at this time”.

A public consultation on the standard opened in mid November and closes on 12 January 2016.

“If companies are already developing compliance or are compliant with BS 8903 the change will be minimal,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy said the new standard would particularly benefit multinational organisations or companies with international clients.

“Having a British standard is all well and good but an ISO standard carries a lot more weight and credibility internationally,” he said.

He said companies in the US for example would be much more likely to welcome an ISO standard than a purely British one.

McCarthy also urged organisations that had so far rejected compliance with sustainable procurement standards to reconsider their stance.

“It's something a lot of customers are asking for and will ask for more in the future. There are investor pressures to be more sustainable and more ethical. If you look at the recent Volkswagen scandal the whole area of ethical business practices is starting to come to the fore.”

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