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New ISO 20400 Standard Helps Organizations Integrate Sustainability into Their Procurement Processes


A new standard published in April, ISO 20400, Sustainable procurement-Guidance, will help organizations integrate sustainability into their procurement processes. The standard, intended for stakeholders involved in or impacted by procurement processes and decisions, will be released after a nearly four-year development process with 37 countries participating through voting and/or comment, 13 observing countries, and more than 10 external liaison organizations.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) serves as the U.S. member body to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO 20400 was developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) ISO/PC 277, Sustainable procurement, with AFNOR (France) holding the Secretariat, and ABNT (Brazil) serving as the twinned Secretariat. The ANSI-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to TC ISO/PC 277 is administered by ASTM International, an ANSI member and audited designator.

Josh Jacobs, LEED AP BD&C, UL technical information and public affairs manager, who serves as U.S. Mirror Committee chairman, spoke with ANSI about how organizations can use the standard to leverage sustainable purchasing decisions, and ultimately, business operations.

ANSI: What are some of the key benefits and challenges organizations face when they want to integrate sustainable procurement into their business?

Jacobs: Procurement professionals utilize complex programs and processes that have normally been honed by organizations over many years to ensure that they are purchasing the best products, at the best prices, at the perfect time for their organizations.

The challenge is in telling these professionals and their organizations that they need to adopt new metrics or ideals when procuring the products that they have always purchased. Those who are reading this know how painful this process probably is. Well, imagine that your organization knows that it wants to start making decisions based on sustainable concepts, but don't even know where to start or how to integrate sustainable requirements into your procurement process.

ANSI: What does ISO 20400, Sustainable procurement-Guidance, mean for organizations? How does this change their process?

Jacobs: Many organizations have already developed their own sustainable requirements, and if they haven't, then others have developed guidance on what tools or metrics to use when looking to purchase sustainably-sourced products. And, up until now, there has not been a complete international guidance document on how to integrate sustainable requirements into the procurement function of an organization.

The standard is significant because it will serve as a guidance document for both public and private organizations looking to integrate sustainable requirements into their procurement processes. It will show them how to take external guidance and make internal decisions that fit their company's goals and ideals. While an organization or individual will not be able to certify to the standard, the guidance is already being used by some as an audit tool to understand where they have deficiencies.

ANSI: What are some of the specifics of the document?

Jacobs: Some of the highlights of the standard are:

1) It's applicable to the entire organization. ISO 20400 will be able to be read, understood and utilized at all levels within an organization. Whether it is an executive teams' understanding of why integrating sustainable requirements is necessary or the person doing the purchasing - the guidance will assist in all conversations and training throughout a public or private organization.

2) It details 15 key drivers for integration. If an organization is questioning the return on investment that integration can provide, the key drivers will talk them through the customers, economic value, supply chain security, and other aspects brought about by utilizing sustainable requirements in procurement.

3) It defines accountability. This allows the entire organization to understand who is responsible for not only integration and implementation of sustainable requirements, but also the follow-up and improvement of the program.

4) It engages stakeholders. The guidance details who some of the key stakeholders could be for an organization and how to work with them during this process.

5) It sets sustainable procurement priorities. This details how to apply risk management to your decision making or how to take a category, supplier, or issue approach.

6) It integrates sustainability requirements in the specifications. This section details how an organization can decide on their own what its criteria will be. This can be existing criteria such as standards or certifications and what is needed to ensure the requirements are met.

7) It's written for procurement. Instead of detailing all the potential sustainable requirements that an organization could use, this guidance was written with the procurement function in mind. A procurement professional should be able to read specific sections directed towards them and understand all the steps that are being asked - it just happens to be on new criteria.

ANSI: What about organizations that already have integration of sustainable requirements in their procurement process underway?

Jacobs: With the publication of ISO 20400, organizations that didn't know where to start in their integration of sustainable requirements into their procurement process will have a new guide. Those that have done this for years will see an internationally approved guidance document that they can benchmark' themselves against to ensure that they continue to implement best practices and continual improvement. .

As importantly, suppliers will understand what purchasers are looking for a little better. And we all will have something that we can hold ourselves to so that we can ensure we are hitting our goals of trying to be more sustainable in our procurement.


Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


[email protected]

Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


[email protected]