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ISO 20400: a leverage to the SDGs

The Introduction of the ISO 20400 standard begins with:

‘Procurement is a powerful instrument for all organizations wanting to behave in a responsible way and contribute to sustainable development and to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).’

The UNEP report ‘Global Review of Sustainable Public Procurement’ of June 2017 indicates:

‘The ISO 20400 Sustainable Procurement guidance standard, will provide public and private purchasing entities a much needed guidance and benchmarking tool’

Concept and definition of Sustainable Procurement

ISO 20400 has agreed on a very positive and ambitious definition:

‘Procurement that has the most positive environmental, social and economic impacts possible over the entire life cycle’.

Note 1: Sustainable procurement involves the sustainability aspects related to the goods or services and to the suppliers along the supply chains.

Note 2: Sustainable procurement contributes to the achievement of organizational sustainability objectives and goals and to sustainable development in general.

So everything is tied together:…  an integrated view, Life Cycle Thinking, whole supply chains, contributing to organizational objectives plus the SDGs. This means that the Sustainable Procurement concept is very ambitious, however it is the best way to move forward.

Four main elements

ISO 20400 includes four main elements, which are each dedicated to specific target groups:

  • Understanding the fundamentals of social responsibility and sustainable procurement. Applicable to: All
  • Integrating sustainability into the organizations procurement policy and strategy. Applicable to: Top management, staff, budget holders, QHSE/CSR management, procurement management
  • Organizing the procurement function towards sustainability. Applicable to: Procurement management, procurement professionals and staff
  • Integrating sustainability into the procurement process. Applicable to: Procurement professionals, budget holders, staff

Procurement professionals become liaison officers

Procurement professionals happen to be on a linking pin position that is becoming extremely challenging and important. On the one hand they have to contribute to the organizational objectives and the needs of budget holders and internal customers. On the other hand they have to procure in a responsible/sustainable way. To address the challenges mentioned in the concept of Sustainable Procurement their position will become strategic for both the organization and the supply chain!

The job of Procurement professionals will evolve to Liaison officers: connecting the strategic goals of the organization with the (social, economic and environmental) supply chain issues. A major challenge but very interesting to be part of!


A big advantage of this guidance standard is the alignment with authoritative intergovernmental norms of behaviour like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, ILO, UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (Responsible Business Conduct).

It is also interesting that the guidance focuses on different internal stakeholders with different clauses. This will strengthen the internal collaboration to use the organization’s influence for sustainable procurement.

Other benefits are:

includes practical and professional guidance for sustainable procurement.

based on the practical and integrated guidance of ISO 26000.

easy to connect with existing management system norms like ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environment) and ISO 31000 (risk mgt.).

assists in creation of business opportunities.

provides input for (integrated) sustainability reporting.

is applicable for public and private companies.

open for customized approach and own ambition.


On Tuesday 25th April 2017 ISO launched the new world wide guidance standard for Sustainable Procurement: ISO 20400. With an eye to the London Olympic games 2012, England drafted the first Sustainable Procurement standard in the world: BS 8903, published in 2011. Brazil took the next step together with France and prepared a sustainable procurement ISO draft text, based on ISO 26000. This was sent out by ISO in October 2012 for voting. The first international meeting was organized in September 213 in Paris. It took 3 ½ years of development by 52 countries and 11 international liaison organizations like UNEP, UN Global Compact, OECD, OHCHR (UN Human Rights), European Commission and IFPSM.