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Why Balfour's green standard must now become the norm

It could be said that construction is one of the most unsustainable things we do.

We use natural resources (90 per cent of the world’s timber, for example), produce waste (50 per cent of what goes to landfill comes from construction), we don’t employ a diverse workforce (11 per cent of the UK industry is female, dropping to just 1 per cent on site).

On the other hand, we have opportunities to improve the environment, boost the economy and create high-quality jobs for people. What is stopping us from dealing with this?

Part of the answer lies in the supply chain. Main contractors deliver most of what they do through their supply chains, which often comprise thousands of SME businesses. The industry is desperate for guidance on how to deliver more sustainable outcomes throughout the industry.

Catalyst for change

For four years, I led the UK delegation to develop a new global standard for sustainable procurement published in April 2017. This week Balfour Beatty was announced as the first organisation in the world to have its procurement processes and practices evaluated against the new standard by my business, Action Sustainability.

While I congratulate Balfour, its leadership should be the catalyst to make this the norm, not the exception.

“Too many audits end up as a competition between the auditee’s ability to hide the things they haven’t done and the auditor’s ability to find them”

This is not a ‘certificate on the wall’ standard. It is a guidance standard, not a requirements standard. This means an organisation can commission an independent evaluation to understand how they are aligning their work to the standard in the context of their business. They can also get some advice on what to do to improve, and can re-evaluate at any time to track their progress.

It is not a pass/fail audit. Too many audits end up as a competition between the auditee’s ability to hide the things they haven’t done and the auditor’s ability to find them.

What does ISO 20400 involve?

ISO 20400 comprises four sections:

The Fundamentals section covers the core principles of sustainable procurement. It emphasises the need for organisations to understand what drives them to procure sustainability and to set priorities in the context of their own business.

Policy and Strategy sets out how to adopt the principles into the overall strategy of the organisation and, importantly, how to further adapt the policy to the procurement context.

Enablers (officially called Organising the Procurement Function Towards Sustainability) covers the organisational conditions required to deliver sustainable procurement. This takes in issues such as governance, leadership, setting priorities at category and supplier level, developing people and supplier engagement.

Finally, the Procurement process section takes the reader step by step through a typical procurement process and provides some good advice on how procurement techniques can be used in different circumstances to deliver greater sustainability through the supply chain.

Societal expectations are at an all-time high. It is no longer acceptable to do a few sustainability things in your own organisation and ignore your supply chain. This standard can be a game-changer.

Shaun McCarthy is a director of Action Sustainability

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