ISO launches a new standard for sustainable procurement

Mon, 24/07/17

Procurement is finally being recognised as one of the most powerful instrument for organizations to achieve their sustainability objectives, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This was likely one of the drivers behind the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and its dedicated PC277 committee’s decision in 2012 to start work on developing a standard for sustainable procurement. 

Now, five years later, ISO 20400, sustainable procurement – guidance has been published. Developing the standard involved the participation of 38 countries and 11 external liaison organizations with 14 countries as observing members

One important aspect of the new guidance is that, unlike other ISO standards, ISO 20400 is not a certification standard. This means that public or private organizations cannot become ISO 20400 certified. Instead, it aims to provide harmonised guidelines that can be applied universally and in sufficient detail, in order to help organizations develop and implement sustainable purchasing practices and policies. 

According to Mieke Pieters, Sustainable Procurement Expert at UNOPS and The Global Picture, sustainable procurement is “the most powerful instrument for the global transition towards responsible consumption and production.”

Acknowledging that sustainable procurement is also a key aspect of social responsibility, this new standard is designed to complement ISO 26000 - guidance on social responsibility.


The structure


ISO 20400 assists organizations in meeting their sustainability responsibilities by providing an understanding of:

  • The fundamental building blocks of sustainable procurement;
  • The integration of sustainability impacts into the organizations procurement strategy and policy;
  • The organization of the procurement function toward sustainability with focus on procurement management dimensions such as investing in people, setting priorities & measuring results; and 
  • The integration of sustainability into the procurement process by defining sustainability requirements, selecting suppliers and managing contracts.

The ISO 20400 guidance is applicable to any organization, public or private, regardless of its size or location, and has been designed to be understood by any stakeholder involved in, or impacted by procurement decisions and processes.

In addition, its implementation takes into account the particular context and characteristics of each organization, scaling the application of the concepts to suit the size of the organization. The adoption of this document by large organizations promotes opportunities for small and medium-sized organizations in their supply chains.


ISO 20400 and the UN Sustainable Procurement efforts


The new ISO 20400 guidance is in line with existing UN approach on sustainable procurement and can be seen as further support for the efforts to systematise sustainable procurement both within and beyond the UN system.

According to the 2017 Annual Statistical Report on UN procurement (reporting on 2016 data), which incorporates a section on sustainable procurement activities, of the 28 organizations that participated in the Sustainable Procurement survey this year, nine have a formal policy including sustainable procurement considerations, whilst nine others are planning to adopt such policy within 2017. 

UN agencies are now more vocal in displaying a range of best practices in sustainable procurement at policy and implementation level and they clearly display their vision, commitments and values. This is encouraging procurement officers and requisitioners to integrate criteria supporting sustainability principles at all stages of the procurement cycle: from the procurement planning phase, requirement definition and sourcing, to solicitation, evaluation, contract management, and in the case of goods, at the disposal stage.

Since 2007 the UN Sustainable Procurement working group (under the auspices of the HLCM Procurement Network) has developed guiding materials, tools and training material to inform UN procurers, requisitioners and managers about sustainable procurement principles, and assist them in implementing sustainable procurement operations.

For more details about sustainable procurement in the UN, check out our news stories.

Categories: Procurement