Sustainable Procurement, often called Responsible Sourcing, is an essential part of the shift to a sustainable economy: by integrating sustainability criteria into the procurement process, organizations are using their influence to make the entire supply chain more sustainable. The new standard ISO 20400 - Sustainable Procurement now offers organizations guidance on setting up a sustainable procurement strategy.

The aim of ISO 20400 is to describe the basic principles of sustainable procurement and to provide an effective model for implementation. The standard does not include requirements for suppliers, but describes how buyers can define criteria for sustainability and integrate them into the purchasing process.

Development process and background

First published in April 2017, ISO 20400 builds on BS 8903, a 2010 British standard for sustainable procurement, but adopts the basic principles and core terminology of ISO 26000, the international standard for social responsibility. The uniform terminology thus facilitates the integration of sustainable procurement (ISO 20400) into comprehensive sustainability management (ISO 26000).

ISO 20400: Content and structure of the standard

Four sections form the core of the standard:

  • Section 4 provides an introduction to the topic of sustainable procurement and an overview of the basic principles
  • Section 5 explains how to integrate sustainable procurement at the strategic level
  • Section 6 describes the organizational prerequisites and requirement for implementing an effective procurement system. An important focus is the qualification of employees.
  • Section 7 describes the operational processes and the integration of sustainability criteria.

The following model results from the standard:

Why it is worthwhile to implement ISO 20400 in practice

ISO 20400 enables organizations to systematically consider relevant sustainability criteria in procurement. Consistent application of the standard leads to the following aspects being taken into account:

  • Meeting the requirement to take responsibility for the supply chain.
  • Identify legal, financial and ethical risks related to sustainability in the supply chain
  • Monitor the sustainability performance of your suppliers and provide incentives for improvement
  • Build value-added and sustainable supplier relationships

How DQS can help you make your procurement processes more sustainable:

  • Certification of your procurement system:
    During an on-site assessment, our auditors confirm the implementation of and compliance with a sustainable procurement system. The detailed audit report not only summarizes the audit results, but also reveals potential for improvement and makes suggestions for improvement. After a successful assessment, you receive the Global Conformity Certificate and the Sustainable Procurement Seal. The audit criteria are based on the concept and principles of ISO 20400.
  • Supply chain analysis: sustainability risks, strengths and weaknesses
    A prerequisite for developing an effective purchasing strategy is a strong understanding of your supply chain's sustainability risks, strengths and weaknesses. With a broad network of highly qualified auditors around the world, DQS is able to analyze your supply chain on a sample basis and determine which sustainability aspects are most relevant to your supply chain. Detailed audit reports and personal interviews summarize the findings, recommend actions, and identify KPIs for ongoing monitoring.
  • Supplier Audits
    Once a specification, standard or supplier code is in place, DQS can support you in ensuring compliance by means of supplier audits. This can be done on the basis of a customer-specific specification or code as well as on the basis of established audit systems such as Sedex SMETA, FSA 2.0, REDcert 2.0 and many more.
Dr. Thijs Willaert

Dr. Thijs Willaert is Global Director Sustainability Services. In this role, he is responsible for the entire ESG service portfolio of DQS. His areas of interest include sustainable procurement, human rights due diligence and ESG audits.