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Supply Chain
First International Standard for Sustainable Procurement Is Almost Here

The number of standards for green products has grown in recent years due to increasing market demand for environmentally-preferable products, resulting in concerns over greenwashing and a need for an international standard. ISO has been working on such a standard since 2014, to help organizations make their procurement processes more sustainable.

The purchasing decisions an organization makes have impacts far and wide, from the energy it consumes to the quality of life of the workers who manufactured the products it buys. Procurement in the public sector alone accounts for around 12 percent of GDP and 29 percent of government expenditure in OECD member countries - it is not something to be taken lightly.

Purchasing sustainably – known as sustainable procurement – should be the goal for any organization as it maximizes its positive social, environmental and economic impacts. This means making smart choices with all purchases, including everything from office supplies to energy providers, caterers and building materials.

The new standard in development, ISO 20400, Sustainable procurement – Guidance, will provide guidelines for organizations wanting to integrate sustainability into their procurement processes. It has just reached a second Draft International Standard (DIS) stage, meaning interested parties can once more submit feedback on the draft before final publication in 2017.

While industry-specific consortiums and supplier ratings platforms have helped with responsible purchasing, the Chair of the ISO committee developing the standard, Jacques Schramm, said that up until now there have been few harmonized, international guidelines that can be applied universally and in sufficient detail despite that procurement is a key driver of an organization’s level of social responsibility.

“For many organizations, sustainable procurement is already featured in their sustainability reports, yet there is a distinct lack of clear guidelines on how to implement and measure sustainable procurement practices,” Schramm said.

“Using ISO 20400 will therefore help organizations achieve their sustainability objectives, improve management of supplier relations, improve the sustainability efforts of their supply chain and give them a competitive edge.”

ISO 20400 will standardize guidelines and principles for all stakeholders working with internal and external purchasing processes – including contractors, suppliers, buyers, and local authorities – as part of an effort to demonstrate good practices for sustainable purchasing. It promises to increase the value of emerging management practices and help differentiate between efforts with genuine positive impacts and those which are rather superficial.

The new standard will also complement ISO 26000, Guidance on social responsibility, enabling organizations to contribute to sustainable development efforts by minimizing their impact on the environment, tackling human rights issues and contributing to society and the economy.

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