In the built environment, what you buy, how you buy it and who you buy it from is changing.

The amount of choice available on the market has grown with free trade and more players in the global marketplace, but with those extra options and varying levels of product quality comes added potential risk.

Throw environmental and social concerns into the mix, coupled with the need for sustainability reporting and the ever-increasing demands for organisations to prove their credibility, transparency and accountability, and you have the perfect recipe for “disclosure fatigue.”

There are too many different criteria to verify from suppliers, and the task of then accurately communicating the impact of a purchasing decision to stakeholders can be immense. And, of course, the need to appear to be “doing the right thing” can sometimes cause even the mightiest brands to stumble – just ask Volkswagen.

The industry is already full of standards designed to assist with making genuinely sustainable purchasing decisions, to the point where the sheer number of different standards and players can be a cause for confusion. It seems strange, then, that the introduction of yet another standard could be seen as the solution.

Yet this is precisely what the forthcoming ISO20400 International Standard for Sustainable Procurement is designed to do, according to a new paper recently authored by Kate Harris and Dr Shaila Divakarla of Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA). Due for release in early 2017, the standard aims to make it easier for organisations of any size, sector or geographical location to integrate sustainability into the procurement process.

“The standard helps standardise guidelines and principles for all stakeholders working with internal and external purchasing processes – that means contractors, suppliers, buyers and local authorities are all on the same page,” said Divakarla. “This is clearly a global movement, and especially welcome in light of the scarcity of regulations for products in the building industry.”

The ISO20400 standard does not replace any legislation or other existing policies designed to regulate procurement activities. It does, however, provide a thorough understanding of the sustainability considerations that must be taken into account across all areas of procurement, from policy to organisation to processes, and provides guidance for how these can be implemented on a practical level.

Though it can be used for any industry, it’s particularly useful for the built environment sector, where supply chains can be enormous in their scope and complexity. Product quality and safety are of high importance and this is often where industry professionals need assistance in making sure risk is kept to a minimum.

One of the standard’s key components is the importance given to using sustainability labels in the procurement process to verify and evaluate claims. Sustainability labels can take a lot of guesswork out of ensuring that a product meets whatever criteria an organisation may set, often through carrying out independent audits and testing procedures. This helps reduce risk for the organisation and provides a high level of confidence and assurance that might otherwise be difficult to achieve, while at the same time involves minimum effort on the part of the procuring organisation.

With growing concerns over product non-compliance, lack of regulation, and the need for many organisations to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability principles, ISO20400 will bring some welcome guidance and assurance for professionals in the built environment industries.