Strategically important metals - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the British Standards Institution (BSI) (SIM 15)

As the UK's National Standards Body, BSI welcomes this opportunity to comment on this inquiry.

BSI is the UK's National Standards Body (NSB) and was the world's first. It represents UK economic and social interests across all of the European and international standards organizations and through the development of business information solutions for British organizations of all sizes and sectors. BSI works with manufacturing and service industries, businesses, governments and consumers to facilitate the production of British, European and international standards.

Much of the market knowledge and expertise BSI has resides in its committee structure. BSI has a large number of committees of experts representing a broad range of stakeholders, and this promotes the development of consensus views regarding standardisation where this is deemed important.

1.  Is there a global shortfall in the supply and availability of strategically important metals essential to the production of advanced technology in the UK?

1.1  BSI has no particular expertise in analysing or establishing the likelihood of any particular materials or resources becoming unavailable. BSI does, however, publish a great deal of standards that help organisations adopting them run their operations in a way that is truly sustainable based on the consideration of all relevant environmental, social and economic factors. A more detailed explanation of the tools that exist is available on the BSI website:

  • 1.1.1

1.2  These tools, and the development of new tools, form the basis of BSI standards-making activity in this area, and it is the adoption of these that will contribute to efforts to ensure the UK's future wealth-making activities are not compromised by events unforeseen environmental, social and political occurrences that put the production of advanced technology at risk.

2.  How vulnerable is the UK to a potential decline or restriction in the supply of strategically important metals? What should the Government be doing to safeguard against this and to ensure supplies are produced ethically?

2.1  Strategically important metals are no different to any other natural resource in that they all need to be used in a sustainable manner. Sustainable development is defined by the British Standard BS 8900:2006 Guidance for managing sustainable development as "an enduring, balanced approach to economic activity, environmental responsibility and social progress". This standard guides organizations towards effective management of their impact on society and the environment, along the route to enhanced organizational performance and success.

2.2  For many organisations, such as the mining and manufacturing industries, the consideration of sustainable materials usage is fundamental to ensuring they operate in a genuinely sustainable manner. With this in mind, BSI is developing another standard that applies the concepts developed in BS 8900 to the use of materials. This standard has the title BS 8905 Framework for the assessment of the sustainable use of materials and is due to be published in mid-2011. It will provide a framework for the consideration of environmental, social and economic issues in the sustainable uses of materials. The framework can be applied to all parts of the supply chain, including the source of the material, the use of the material throughout the use phase of a product and the treatment of the material at the end of the product's useful life.

2.3  The Standard is intended to support decisions about the sustainable use of any type of material, and the adoption and implementation of both this and BS 8900 should be encouraged by the Government to safeguard against the decline or restriction in the supply of strategically important metals in a way that is deemed ethical.

3.  How desirable, easy and cost-effective is it to recover and recycle metals from discarded products? How can this be encouraged? Where recycling currently takes place, what arrangements need to be in place to ensure it is done cost-effectively, safely and ethically?

3.1  The recovery and recycling of metals from discarded products should only take place when it has been established that incorporating the metals in the products, and recovering and recycling them at the end-of-life stage is the most sustainable option available. Other options may include using other materials, or adopting other end-of-life options.

3.2  To make this judgement requires a coherent full lifecycle approach encompassing all relevant environmental, social and economic factors. This approach will be articulated in BS 8905 and adoption of these principles will enable sustainable practices to be put into place regarding the use of the metals and their subsequent recovery.

3.3  In relation to other end-of-life options, BSI is currently developing a series of standards for designers and design engineers, BS 8887, Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing. These standards aim to give designers recommendations on how best to incorporate into their design documentation, guidance on the ultimate reuse, recovery, recycling and disposal of the components and materials used. A number of specific end-of-life processes have already been covered in the BS 8887 series. The series could be expanded to cover the selection and recovery of materials. A list of the BS 8887 standards currently published and/or in development is as follows:

3.4  BS 8887-1, Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing - Part 1: General concepts, process and requirements;

3.5  BS 8887-2, Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing - Part 2: Terms and definitions;

3.6  BS 8887-220: Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing - Part 220: The process of remanufacture - specification;

3.7  BS 8887-240, Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing - Part 240: Reconditioning.

4.  Are there substitutes for those metals that are in decline in technological products manufactured in the UK? How can these substitutes be more widely applied?

4.1  Substitution can only take place when an individual engineer in full possession of the relevant facts relating to the product being developed is able to make a decision based on the both the performance and sustainability of the candidate materials. To be able to do this the engineer will need access to a wide range of complex engineering data relating to performance and sustainability. Such information is currently difficult to access due to the lack of agreement regarding the categories of information that need to be accessed across different geographical regions and materials classes and in different industries. In addition, the electronic file formats these data are stored in are often proprietary and software platform dependent, meaning long term archiving is difficult due to the rapid obsolescence of the platforms themselves. As a result these data are not easily accessed by the engineers making these judgements.

4.2  The global supply chains are very complex, and a lot of valuable information regarding the sustainability and performance of particular materials and resources is lost, because a particular participant in the chain only has knowledge of direct inputs and outputs. There are efforts in place to create repositories for data, such as the EU Life Cycle Database:


4.4  This presents industry-derived data on specific materials using an averaging process. Reliance on these data, however, means that is not possible for a participant to gain competitive advantage by being better than average. To do better than average requires the originators of the data to preserve, archive and make it available in a way that is not currently done. There are a great deal of internationally-developed product data standards developed under ISO/TC 184/SC4 Industrial Data that could be applied to this problem and would enable users to generate, retain, archive, and make accessible all relevant data in a way that is secure and does not compromise intellectual property. A summary of these standards is as follows:

4.5  ISO 8000, Data quality.

4.6  ISO 10303, Industrial automation systems and integration — Product data representation and exchange, informally known as Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data (STEP).

4.7  ISO 13584, Industrial automation systems and integration — Parts library (PLIB).

4.8  ISO 15926, Industrial automation systems and integration — Integration of life-cycle data for process plants including oil and gas production facilities.

4.9  ISO 18629, Industrial automation systems and integration — Process specification language (PSL).

4.10  These standards could be adapted in such a way that overcomes the problems in identifying and accessing important and complex engineering data. As a result, participants would be able to access all suitable relevant information regarding the attributes of a material, and make better choices in relation to its sustainability.

5.  What opportunities are there to work internationally on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically important metals?

5.1  The marketplace for raw materials, and goods and services using materials, is an international one, and many company, organisation and supply chain boundaries transcend national boundaries. Therefore, it is essential that the foundations upon which co-operation and methods are based are international in nature. As mentioned earlier, many of these methods will be transmitted through the medium of published formal standards. The agreed good practice that is contained within BS 8900 and BS 8905 will be of the highest value if it can be translated into internationally agreed standards at the global and/or European level. BSI, as the UK National Standards Body (NSB) has formal links with the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the European standards making Body, CEN. Therefore, BSI is in the best position to ensure good practice developed in the UK is adopted more broadly and can also promote the UK as a pioneer in the development of solutions regarding the sustainable use of materials.

5.2  In addition, the UK is a leading participant in the development of standards developed by ISO/TC 184/SC4 Industrial Data, and is in a position to lead on developments where there is an opportunity to use standards to enable access to high quality and useful data.


1.  BSI is the UK's National Standards Body, incorporated by Royal Charter and responsible independently for preparing British Standards and related publications. BSI has 107 years of experience in serving the interest of a wide range of stakeholders including government, business and society.

2.  BSI presents the UK view on standards in Europe (to CEN and CENELEC) and internationally (to ISO and IEC). BSI has a globally recognized reputation for independence, integrity and innovation ensuring standards are useful, relevant and authoritative.

3.  A BSI (as well as CEN/CENELEC, ISO/IEC) standard is a document defining best practice, established by consensus. Each standard is kept current through a process of maintenance and reviewed whereby it is updated, revised or withdrawn as necessary.

4.  Standards are designed to set out clear and unambiguous provisions and objectives. Although standards are voluntary and separate from legal and regulatory systems, they can be used to support or complement legislation.

5.  Standards are developed when there is a defined market need through consultation with stakeholders and a rigorous development process. National committee members represent their communities in order to develop standards and related documents by consensus. They include representatives from a range of bodies, including government, business, consumers, academic institutions, social interests, regulators and trade unions.

British Standards Institution

17 December 2010

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 17 May 2011