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BS8001: a standardised approach to the Circular Economy

Written by Phillip Harfield on 1 August 2017

What is BS8001 and how can I use it to create or retain value in my business?

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Lifecycle mapping

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British Standard BS8001 is hailed as the ‘new standard for the Circular Economy’. It outlines a rationale for the business community to adopt the circular business models required to meet global sustainable development aims. The standard - ‘Framework for implementing circular economy principles in organisations - Guide’ - aims to translate the principles of the circular economy (CE) into tangible steps for businesses to take. As a ‘guide’, this is a less dogmatic approach by BSI, perhaps reflecting the difficulties in being prescriptive for such a whole system-engaging principle as the circular economy.


Those of us with a passion for interpreting standardisation literature will relish wading through terminology such as roadmaps, frameworks, organisational maturity and value creation. For those that don’t, here are the ‘essentials’ which I think represents the important stuff, and what most businesses will need/want to know.


Understanding the drivers - is my current business model at risk?


It has become a bit of a cliché to propose business model innovation, and even more so to espouse the universal applicability of sharing economy models such as, Airbnb or Zipcar and on-demand models like Uber. Indeed, there is a clear message running through the standard that ‘there is no one‑size‑fits‑all approach’ (some might say contradictory to standardisation). However, the consumer drivers of convenience and the shift away from ownership are hugely significant and show that, increasingly, a test for all organisations is whether their current business models can deliver intended circular economy objectives**.


No small question then, when equating future business risk to current business model. I think the pragmatic point is the separation of things you might do as best practice, to make things more efficient or reduce waste, and a strategic approach to modelling your business based on sustainable outcomes. The specific drivers for your company will, of course, depend on many intangibles. For example, a manufacturer of consumer electronics who has identified the price volatility of a key material as a significant risk may go some way to mitigate this through design and process efficiencies. However, an alternate leasing-based business model may be the only effective means to retain the material value invested in a product.


Identifying the opportunities – can you create or retain value through resource circularity?


Ask yourself, what are you giving away when a customer buys your product or service? Beyond the retail/wholesale price you receive, is there material value (in metals, polymers etc.), design value (in the functional configuration of those materials) and service value (in maintaining the functionality or performance)? If yes or perhaps, then investigating how to capture this total asset value makes good business sense.


The standard offers us six CE business model groupings as an aid to determine if they offer ‘potential’ value to you or your stakeholders? These are:


  1. On‑demand - producing a product or providing a service only when consumer demand has been quantified and confirmed
  2. Dematerialisation - replacing physical infrastructure and assets with digital/virtual services
  3. Product life cycle extension/reuse – durable products capable of reuse with or without repair or upgrade
  4. Recovery of secondary raw materials/by‑products – aiming to be reused or processed again into any form of end‑use product (or part thereof)
  5. Product as a service/product–service system (PSS) - leasing access to and not selling ownership of a product or service. Company delivers product performance or defined results rather than the product or service itself
  6. Sharing economy and collaborative consumption - accessibility models for markets adapted from BS 8001).


What can you do to assess potential value?


There a numerous approaches (often hard to apply) to understanding the potential value and appropriate actions in implementing such models. The six high-level CE Principles proposed within BS8001 act as a ‘frame of reference’ for your investigations:


  1. Systems thinking – understanding the system-wide implication of your business
  2. Innovation -  the creation of business value by design
  3. Stewardship -  managing the system-wide implications
  4. Collaboration -  the creation and management of mutual value
  5. Value optimisation – retaining value at highest level
  6. Transparency -  being open about what you are doing.


From my experience, the first principle of developing a system-wide understanding will inform all other aspects.  In understanding the company position within the value chain (upstream to suppliers and downstream to customers) and the identification of stakeholders, you will begin to clarify which product/service aspects you may be able to influence in terms of resource/value.


The standard highlights three exploration activities: system mapping for resource/material flows; value networks for stakeholder and relationship mapping; and review of existing life cycle assessment studies. As an example of how it works in practice, I developed a lifecycle mapping exercise specifically for lighting manufacturers. Through identifying ‘actors & actions’ it provides a means of mapping potential resource management relationships.


As to whether BS 8001 offers enough tangible actions and tools to allow businesses to put the principles into practice remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, the greatest barrier remains the resources needed to develop an initial understanding of how the circular economy might be relevant. One of the online tools which I have found useful in this respect is the University of Cambridge Circular Economy toolkit.


With all the potential approaches, the collaborative prerequisites for implementing circular economy practices are clear. With this in mind, the Enterprise Europe Network provides a great level of support towards the development of knowledge and value sharing partnerships.