New ISO standard for sustainable purchasing

Shaun McCarthy
8 August 2013

It was a great honour to be invited by BSI to lead the UK delegation in developing a standard through the International Standards Organisation (ISO) for sustainable purchasing.

I think I can say “honour” in the most literal sense of the word because I don’t get paid and I won’t claim any travelling expenses. Regular readers of this blog will know I pushed the government hard to create a UK standard for sustainable procurement and the result was BS 8903, written by my colleague Cathy Berry and published in 2010. The take-up of this standard has been relatively slow but steady and many companies have become accustomed to the working methods proposed, seeing real progress in the meantime.There are a few misunderstandings. For example, I recently saw a company claiming it was ‘accredited’ to ‘gold’ standard against BS 8903. This is nonsense. The standard is guidance and you cannot be accredited against it, but you can have an expert evaluation. There is no such thing as a ‘gold’ standard – this was made up by the company that sold them the ‘accreditation’. Buyer beware! But much as I would like things to go faster I am satisfied with the direction BS 8903 is taking. All would be well if the ISO standard was a logical follow-on from BS 8903 in the same way the sustainable events standard ISO 2012.1 is a follow on from BS8901 - but it is not. The proposal to develop the ISO standard was made by the French and Brazilian standards authorities and the first draft looks very different to BS 8903. Through all my work in sustainable procurement over the past 15 years or so, I have advocated two key principles. First, sustainable procurement is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and purchasing organisations must prioritise their categories of supply against their own sustainability ambitions. This principle was adopted by the Sustainable Procurement Task Force in 2005, when it was called ‘prioritisation methodology’, and into the British standard in 2010. Many of my clients refer to it as ‘heat mapping’ these days. Second, buying organisations’ focus on sustainable supply, not sustainable supplier. This means placing a focus on how your supply chain will deliver your sustainability objectives and mitigate your risks, not their own. For example, if you are a construction client procuring the services of an architect, you need to know if it can design a sustainable building for you, not if it recycles its toner cartridges. These principles are conspicuous by their absence in the early draft I saw so I will be fighting my corner to try to make sure these principles are upheld. Wish me luck. ☛ Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability 


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