The Circular Economy as Standard

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Circular economy yields major organisational benefits
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Jonathan Newell reviews the latest British Standard released to provide guidance to companies on implementing the principles of a circular economy.

Defined by the BSI as a “concept which challenges organisations to re-think how their resources are managed to create financial, environmental and social benefits”, the circular economy is about thinking on more environmental terms and reaping the rewards from the prudent use of the resources available.

Creating a standard that can be referred to when adopting this approach was a challenging task, since adopting a circular economy is the corporate equivalent of an individual making a particular lifestyle choice. There are many options that can be taken and judgements on what’s right and wrong can at times be somewhat nebulous.

Recognising this, the new standard is not prescriptive, but rather a guide and this is reflected in its title “BS 8001:2017: Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organisations – guide”.

According to the standards organisation, BS 8001 was developed to meet mutually beneficial goals, by providing guiding principles for organisations and individuals to consider and implement more sustainable practices.

Circular Economy Principles

Split into two parts, the standard examines the principles of a circular economy, why it is important and why organisations should consider moving towards a more circular and sustainable mode of operation by keeping products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times and by being restorative and regenerative by design.

The second part sets out how these principles can be implemented within an organisational context. This section forms the bulk of the standard and offers guiding principles, a flexible implementation framework and supporting guidance.

The circular economy principles are set out by the BSI in a collection of abstract nouns: Systems thinking, Innovation, Stewardship, Collaboration, Value Optimisation and Transparency. However, these are the global overriding principles and as the standard delves into the detail, the way in which a circular economy operates becomes much clearer. The standard defines each term, has a glossary and is well illustrated with schematics to help understand it.

Flexible implementation

The second part of the standard goes into the flexible implementation of a circular economy and this takes a more pragmatic approach, which companies can follow to improve their chances of a successful implementation. Comprising eight stages from project scoping through to delivery and monitoring, the guidance is not so far removed from the steps most companies would take to manage any successful project, including the examination of feasibility and the making of a business case to support the project.

This practical approach to the standard is where the value lies. After initially helping to define the circular economy and spark ideas for how it can be used in an organisation, the standard gives clear guidance on how it can then be delivered.

No job too small

BS 8001:2017 isn’t just for large organisations. It can be implemented at any level within any size of company. Like other general standards, such as Quality Management or Security Management, the document is long and it will require a “champion” within the company to take control of it, examine its contents in depth and oversee its implementation.

The move to a circular economy is a significant opportunity for businesses and organisations of all sizes. According to BSI, by contributing to a resource efficient and low-carbon economy, costs and supply chain risks are reduced. Further benefits for businesses which choose to implement BS 8001 include improved resilience, new revenue streams and enhanced corporate sustainability credentials.

According to David Fatscher, Head of Sustainability at BSI, BS 8001 was developed to enable organisations to take practical actions to realise the economic and social benefits of the circular economy.

“Resource productivity is at the heart of the government’s new Industrial Strategy and demonstrates how standards can be considered business improvement tools which help organisations unlock the untapped potential of sustainable growth,” he said.

Read more on the new British Standard on the circular economy at “BSI Standard Provides Guide to Sustainability”

Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell is a graduate of Loughborough University and has three decades of experience in engineering as well as broadcast and technical journalism.
Jonathan Newell

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