A new era, a new standard

17 August 2010
Embedding behavioural change in the long term requires a common language, understanding and systems. Our industries were a bloodbath before the Health and Safety at Work Act and the concept of safety management systems were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s our industry was being killed by cheaper, better quality products from Japan before the introduction of BS 5750 and subsequently ISO 9001 quality management systems. The environmental impacts of businesses started to be much better managed in the 1990s through application of ISO 14001. Sustainable procurement has no such common language or accepted definition of good practice. It can range from sending each supplier a standard environmental questionnaire (which usually contributes nothing to procurement decisions) to the highly sophisticated approaches taken by companies such as Marks & Spencer and United Utilities. The introduction of BS 8903 and guidance for the construction industry based on this standard in autumn 2010 will revolutionise the way we think about sustainable procurement. For the first time end users will have a standard they can call up in their specifications which can be replicated down the supply chain. We will have a common standard against which we can train procurement professionals and evaluate the capability of businesses in our supply chain. I have been involved in the development of the standard and Cathy Berry from my team was the technical author. I have been delighted with CIPS support with the drafting process and their willingness to be first out of the blocks to promote the standard and offer training for procurement leaders to implement it. I would encourage CIPS members to use the standard and those in the construction industry to look to the CIRIA guide as a common approach and an opportunity to deliver competitive advantage through sustainability. * Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability and chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012
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