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Be a strong link in the sustainable supply chain, with BS 8903

DEFRA’s Flexible Framework & how it connects with BS 8903

Using BS 8903 to manage the construction sustainable supply chainOne of the legacies of the 2012 London Olympics is a drive by Government to more achieve a more sustainable construction supply chain.  DEFRA has produced their “Flexible Framework” guidance for central and local government procurement, which is cascading down through the supply chain, led by principle contractors. So, whether you’re at one end or another or somewhere in the middle of the supply chain, it pays to know how the system works.  The Flexible Framework sets out eight core principles for a sustainable supply chain:-

  1. Seek a clear and public commitment to sustainability at the highest level of the organisation
  2. Prepare thoroughly: early consideration of sustainability
  3. Set specific, clear, and challenging sustainability targets from the outset
  4. Be an intelligent client: get the right people on board, define the project and set the budget
  5. Embed sustainability objectives throughout the team and supply chain
  6. Identify and use low impact, responsibly sourced products and materials and ensure good supply chain management
  7. Create a structure that supports a collaborative approach while maintaining an environment of challenge
  8. Organise procurement so services can be shared

BS 8903 is a new management standard that has been written to help organisations to put the DEFRA Flexible Framework into practice, and that takes account of the three “Ps” of sustainable development People, Profit & Planet.  The standard shows organisations how to use their procurement to support their social, economic and environmental aims and, in doing so, to reap genuine long-term benefits for the business. 

How does BS 8903 work?

Like most new British and ISO management standards, BS 8903 is based on Deming’s plan-do-check-act cycle, which we’re familiar with from grand daddy of them all, the ISO 9001 quality management standard, but the new standard also talks about “Fundamentals” & “Enablers” before moving on to the procurement process itself.


Here BS 8903 is guiding the business to understand what is motivating it to introduce sustainable procurement and to identify what its goals are.  As a first stage in the process, the leaders of the business define their policies on sustainable procurement, their objectives and strategies for achieving them.  These ideas need to be clearly communicated to all of the people in the business that can influence the success or failure of the program.


According to BS 8903, enablers are the building blocks that need to be put in place before the sustainable procurement process can start.  The leadership structure and responsibilities have to be defined and people need to be provided with the skills and competences that they will need.  A risk and opportunity assessment is carried out on the resources that the business uses, so that the priorities for action can be identified.  The business will have to communicate with all interested parties up and down their supply chain, to explain what to expect and to obtain buy-in for the change.  Finally, the business will decide how it is going to measure progress against the objectives that it has set.

The procurement process

 The Finance Director is likely to be one of BS 8903’s biggest supporters because the first step that the standard expects is to question whether a purchase is needed at all, or whether there are opportunities to reduce the amount of the commodity in question.  Assuming that a decision has been made to purchase something, the next step is to look at whether the impact of the purchase can be reduced.  A good example of this is the increased use of impact resistant board and shredded paper packing to reduce the weight of shipping materials.  The business will need to introduce a more stringent supplier approval process that takes into account the vendors own policies and management of sustainability.  Finally, once a supplier has been accepted, the purchaser continues to monitor their performance against any agreements that the supplier has signed up to.

Review & learn from experience

As a business works on its supply chain management it may find that it can do things better, so the final stage in the BS 8903 plan-do-check-act cycle is to periodically take a look at how things are progressing, note any lessons learned and to feed these back into the system to drive continuous improvement.