The BSI’s circular standard: how businesses can adopt circular policies

Innovation News Network speaks to David Fatscher from BSI about their new circular standard, giving advice to businesses wanting to become part of the circular economy.

Adopting a circular standard of operating as a business or an organisation can seem daunting. It’s a topic which has generated a lot of noise, but the talk around the implementation of techniques is more limited. The British Standards Institution (BSI) has recognised the growing importance of the circular economy and last year published BS 8001:2017: Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations.

The circular economy is beginning to challenge organisations to re-think how they operate, whether as a manufacturer or service provider. One of the key aims of establishing a circular standard is to keep materials at their highest utility and value, whilst being as restorative and regenerative as possible by design; learning how to better manage resources to create financial, environmental and social benefits will help businesses and organisations in the long term.

Innovation News Network speaks to David Fatscher from BSI about the standard; he explains the importance of businesses adopting a more circular mode of operation and how the standard can steer organisations into a new way of thinking and operating.

This circular standard is very different to the type of standard most of us associate with BSI. Can you explain BS 8001 and the intentions behind it?

This standard has not been developed as a technical specification or a management system with requirements to follow. That’s largely because it is not a case of setting down a ‘one-size-fits-all’ template and more encouraging the transition. We like to think of BS 8001 as promoting innovation in new ideas, all of which aim to get organisations moving towards a more circular mode of operation. BS 8001 provides organisations and businesses with guidance on the principles of circularity.

The circular economy is not a simple off/on concept (a business can’t just decide to start working in a circular mode of operation overnight) and you will see that we talk of the ‘principles’ of circularity. BS 8001 is there to help steer organisations and point them in the right direction; should they wish to go in pursuit of more sustainable resource management, which in itself is the key to unlocking the circularity dividend. It’s very much about capturing what needs to be considered in one place – should an organisation wish to embark on this journey – and then, via a staged approach, enable it to progress.

The circular standard is both a high-level strategic document but also a practical tool. There’s a lot of useful content in there. We decided to put a strong focus on terminology as the circular economy is still quite a new topic and whilst there may be resources available online, most of them present conflicting definitions. The BSI model for developing standards centres around bringing together a wide variety of experts, representing different stakeholders (industry, government, regulators, NGOs, academics, consumer groups), and then facilitate the process of consensus building. Having all of this agreed terminology in one document aims to help simplify the circular economy concept.

Where did the thinking behind the standard come from and how were the ideas then developed into the document that it has become today?

The circular standard was developed in recognition of a range of different drivers. There are already a number of different standards that cover the technical aspects of remanufacturing, eco-design and waste management but when we started to engage with those stakeholders, we saw that what was missing was a single starting point with regard to circularity. That engagement also told us who might be the main actors to help us shape the solution. This all took place against the backdrop of policy papers and research outlining the benefits of moving to more circular operations.

In 2011, the UK Government’s waste policy review highlighted the importance of working alongside standard setting organisations to encourage inclusion of more waste prevention requirements in product standards. An Ellen McArthur Foundation/McKinsey study in 2013 calculated that if Europe could adopt circular economy principles, it could generate a net income of €1.8tr by 2030.

More recently, the UK Government’s industrial strategy emphasised the potential economic benefits of a circular standard of operation stating that: “increasing efficiency ­of materials across the whole supply chain can provide huge cost savings and improve the productivity of resources.”

In that sense, the arrival of BS 8001 is very timely.

What can businesses expect when applying the circular economy model to their mode of operation, are the principles of the circular standard easily transferrable to all business models?

The standard is relevant to any organisation, from any sector, of any size, in any location (and not just in the UK) but, as I said, it is very much a high level document about how to reconsider the way in which you are doing business. It allows organisations to look at themselves through a different lens and consider new opportunities, whilst acknowledging the risks. The circular standard enables organisations to find a solution; it is not there to provide them with the solution itself. In that sense, you might say it’s a business transformation tool, rather than a product or process tool (which is perhaps what BSI is most associated with).

I think it’s also important to stress that the standard is there to guide and some organisations may share it internally and decide that, on reflection, the move to a more circular mode of operation is not for them, at least not now. We do believe however, this still means the circular standard is providing value. Its aim is, in part, to prompt debate and create awareness of the issues.

You are now one year on from when this standard was first published, what kind of feedback has it been receiving?

The feedback has all been very positive. The circular standard was shortlisted as a finalist for the edie Sustainability Leaders Award 2018. It fell into the innovation category which is especially rewarding as it demonstrated that others shared our belief that BS 8001 can be a catalyst for real change.

We have also seen BS 8001 be the subject of workshops, so other organisations are helping us spread the word.

Despite this standard being British, can we assume that its principles can be transferable to any European business model?

Yes, certainly. Most standards developed by BSI are written to be transferable in terms of their global application and BS 8001 is particularly relevant in Europe given the EU’s Circular Economy Package and the emphasis made there on product standards. We are also looking at promoting the circular standard within the international standards community of ISO. BSI has an enviable track record of taking national standards into ISO (the quality management standard ISO 9001 and the environmental management standard ISO 14001 both started life as British standards) so that seems an obvious next step. If that happens, it will be another example of strong UK thought leadership on a global stage.

David Fatscher

Head of Sustainability

BSI Group

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