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ISO 20400 is the world's first international standard to provide guidance on delivering sustainability objectives through supply chains.

Its publication in April was in response to increasing government, corporate and societal demand for sustainable supply chains to become a core business objective, with measurable results. ISO said 20400 is intended for stakeholders involved in, or impacted by, procurement decisions and processes. IEMA and consultancy Action Sustainability have published a guide to help members understand and adopt the standard principles.

A free copy of Delivering Sustainable Outcomes Through Supply Chains Using ISO 20400 can be downloaded at

ISO 20400 – a summary

Shaun McCarthy, chair of the IEMA professional standards committee and director of Action Sustainability, explains what ISO 20400 is:

‘The standard provides guidance for any organisation of any size or type that needs to deliver sustainable outcomes through their supply chains. It is relevant to anybody in an organisation who contributes to procurement decisions and/or works with suppliers, including sub-contractors. The standard is similar in structure to the standard it succeeds, BS 8903, in that it provides a strategic framework for an organisation to procure sustainably.

‘It is a guidance standard, not a requirements standard. You cannot be certified against it.

‘A guidance standard means you are free to work with a client to understand how they have interpreted it in the context of their business; establish evidence to confirm they have done what they said they would do; and then to express our professional opinion through findings and recommendations.

‘It is a much more engaging and constructive process where the client builds their strategy over time and can be evaluated to gauge their progress at a time when they most need professional advice. Too many audits end up as a competition between the auditee’s ability to hide bad stuff and the auditor’s ability to unearth what they have hidden. A guidance standard helps us to engage more openly and transparently.’