BS 8001 - watershed in the development of circular economy standards

Written by: Dr Stuart McLanaghan | Published:

The release of BS 8001 - Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations – Guide – ( for public consultation signifies a watershed in national standards development. It represents the world’s first circular economy business-oriented standard, providing guidance to organisations on the steps they can take to transition from a linear, to a more sustainable and circular mode of operation.

BS 8001 aims to provide organisations with an understanding of what the circular economy is and how it may be relevant both now and in the future, and how to implement associated principles to create direct and indirect value from the process. It also aims to be applicable to all organisations irrespective of size and geographical location, and is intentionally inclusive for both product and service providers. The narrative and outputs are also deliberately jurisdictionally ‘neutral’ (e.g. neither UK- nor EU-centric), thereby leaving the document open to much wider adoption. As a guide standard, BS 8001 is not intended to be prescriptive or certifiable.

Journey and process

While there is no shortage of publications and resources covering aspects of the circular economy, few are specifically directed towards helping organisations take practical action to shift to a more sustainable and circular economic model. In 2013, a research project by BSI - the UK’s national standards body - explored the role of standards to help organisations develop or improve their understanding of the circular economy and its implementation. While over 200 standards were identified relating to specific areas of waste prevention and resource management, no formal standard either defined or focused entirely on circular economy thinking.

Following a stakeholder forum in 2014 to discuss the research findings, it was concluded that a standard would be beneficial to help organisations turn the concept of the circular economy into practical action. BSI subsequently established committee SDS/1/10 on sustainable resource management, to develop an overarching framework business standard. The committee comprises c.60 diverse stakeholders including devolved government administrations, national industry bodies, private sector, NGOs, academia and other experts.

The broad scope and underlying principles were agreed during 2015 and a smaller drafting panel was formed that November to develop the actual standard. Highly unusually for UK standards’, government funding was secured to test key aspects of the draft standard (mainly clauses 4 and 5) via a piloting process independently managed on behalf of BSI. Since Spring 2016, the drafting panel has met monthly and the resulting draft has been developed in record time.


BS 8001 is intended to be used flexibly with the guiding principles and framework for action forming the heart of the standard (Clauses 4 and 5 respectively). There are six guiding principles:

  • Systems thinking: organisations take a holistic approach to understand how individual decisions and activities interact within their wider system(s)
  • Innovation: organisations continually innovate to create business value through the sustainable management of resources in products and services
  • Stewardship: organisations manage the direct and indirect impacts of their decisions and activities across their wider system(s)
  • Collaboration: organisations collaborate internally and externally through formal and/or informal arrangements to create mutual business value
  • Value optimisation: organisations keep all products, components and materials at their highest value and utility
  • Transparency: organisations are open about decisions and activities that affect their ability to transition to a more sustainable and circular mode of operation and are willing to communicate these in a clear, accurate, timely, honest and complete manner

The Framework for action enables an organisation to put the principles of the circular economy into practice. BS 8001 provides an eight-stage process (Framing – scoping – idea generation – feasibility – business case – piloting – implementation – reviewing) that can be tailored to an organisation’s specific needs depending on the extent of their circular economy ‘maturity’ and degree of current implementation. It is up to the organisation to choose which stages they intend to implement and in what order this will be done.

Other clauses provide supporting information: Clause 2 - describes the ‘language’ of the circular economy and defines the terms use throughout the document. Clause 3 - provides a narrative on what the circular economy is and its relevance to business (this is intended to provide both an introduction for those not aware of the term, highlighting opportunities and risks, but at the same time engaging with organisations with varying degrees of subject knowledge). Clause 6 - gives guidance on circular business model selection and the main types emerging. Clause 7 - gives guidance on specific related issues or considerations (e.g. liability and insurance.)

Challenges along the way

The drafting panel faced several challenges including: standardisation - the emergence of differing national and academic approaches reflected diverse circular economy terminology, often for broadly similar things. The approach adopted intends to aid common interpretation of key terms and minimise their potential misuse. The definition of circular business models also presented similar challenges, but in addition the need to distinguish between business models types and enabling, or supporting, mechanisms. For example, financing mechanisms (e.g. crowd-funding) can aid business plan delivery, but are not circular business models.

Next steps

Feedback from organisations who participated in the pilot process has been very positive and there is significant overseas interest in the standard too – most notably other standards bodies in Europe. Draft BS 8001 is available for public consultation until 15 January 2017 with publication of the finalised standard expected during May 2017.

Other supporting or ‘daughter’ standards could be developed in the future, covering specific topics in more detail, potentially influenced by the outcome of the public consultation exercise. It is also envisaged that sector-specific guidance will emerge with time.

Dr Stuart McLanaghan, director - Eden21 is a resource and sustainability specialist and BBC Food Hero. He is a member of both the main BSI committee developing BS 8001 and drafting group, where he leads on circular business models

This material is protected by MA Business Ltd copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.