Standards level the playing field
We are living in a world that is undergoing profound transformations at all levels. Economies have never been more interdependent. Today, products that are consumed in one market are no longer “made in one country”; they are “made in the world”. Before they get to the end-consumer, they transit through many countries where manpower or parts add value to the final product.
Small and medium enterprises that use international standards will find it easier to get their products certified and are better able to compete and sell anywhere in the world. With international standards SMEs are able to take part in global value chains and benefit from technology transfer.
Countries that have mainstreamed international standards in their policies and regulations are able to better protect their populations and give them a bigger choice of quality products.
In a multi-polar world, where the influence and economic weight of emerging economies is shifting the balance of power, international standards stimulate trade, overcome artificial trade barriers and help level the playing field. This makes companies, industries and economies more competitive, making it easier for them to export, and stimulates diversification nationally and internationally.
International standards ensure positive change
Today the international community faces shifting global markets as well as a need to balance remedies to macro-economic challenges with the urgent call for a meaningful response to climate change. In this complex environment, international standards are powerful tools to lead positive change by detailing specifications that can open up global markets, create enabling business environments, spur economic growth and help mitigate and adapt to climate change.
International standards represent the consensus view of the world’s leading experts in industry sectors ranging from energy utilities and energy efficiency to transportation, management systems, climate change, healthcare, safety and information and communication technology (ICT). Volunteering their knowledge in service of the public interest, experts in these and many other subjects come together to create standards that share innovation with all the world’s countries and so provide business, government and society with a solid platform for positive change.
Standards support rapid economic growth in developing countries by outlining best practices that enable them to avoid "reinventing the wheel". Given the strong correlation between economic growth and urbanization, standards are becoming increasingly important in helping cities develop more intelligent and sustainable infrastructures, making them better places to live.
International standards are ensuring that products, services and environments become more accessible to persons with disabilities.
Standards are also applied as tools to help reduce climate change by improving energy efficiency and decreasing waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Standards share best practices in renewable energy generation, provide cutting-edge requirements and processes for waste disposal and recycling, and tools to enhance efficiency and environmental sustainability across all industry sectors.
International standards bodies such as IEC, ISO, and ITU provide cohesion to a myriad of national and regional standards; thereby harmonizing global best practices, eliminating technical barriers to trade, and fostering shared socio-economic advance.
These benefits are ultimately all passed on to the consumer in the form of greater choice, increased quality and lower prices.
Today, IEC, ISO and ITU are employing the time-tested benefits of standardization to broker global consensus on the best approaches to contemporary social, economic and environmental challenges. The principles underlying international standardization are today more relevant than ever. Standards continue to ensure positive change by removing barriers to communication and cooperation, and the work of IEC, ISO and ITU remains central to the development of standards that share knowledge among all the world’s countries and so provide building blocks for global prosperity.
Less waste, better results - Standards increase efficiency
"International standards such as those from IEC, ISO and ITU are crucial for increasing efficiency," the three partners underline. "This issue has come to the forefront as global challenges like sustainability and financial uncertainty mean that organizations are challenged to achieve better results with less waste."
They define efficiency as the ability to achieve objectives by implementing processes to develop products or services of optimal quality with minimal waste, expense, or unnecessary effort. Efficiency helps organizations maximize profits and meet their goals, and is crucial for success in today’s challenging and competitive economic environment.
In today’s highly competitive and complex world, the issue of sustainability, viewed from an economic, environmental and societal perspective, means that businesses must be more efficient across a wide range of measures and issues.
The heads of IEC, ISO and ITU emphasize on: "International standards are powerful tools for helping organizations capitalize their potential in the global marketplace. Developed by experts from around the world, they contain internationally harmonized best practice which can be used to measure, compare and increase efficiency and reduce waste.
For example, by providing common specifications, international standards enable products, services and technology from different vendors to fit together like pieces in a puzzle. They support interoperability and compatibility, providing a solid base for developing innovations and facilitating market access to new products. They ensure that countries, organizations, regulators and researchers, do not have to reinvent the wheel, and can invest in other priorities."
The World Standards Day 2012 message points out that the state-of-the-art know-how contained in international standards is accessible to all, including developing countries, helping them make the best use of their human and material resources. More efficient industrial and business processes, facilitated by standards, empower companies to compete globally, and produce faster for more markets at a lesser cost.
In this way, standards help organizations meet their customers' needs while focusing and optimizing company processes. Regulators can use international standards as a means to show compliance and as a basis for market- and consumer-friendly regulations. And consumers can rest assured that international standards promote efficiency on issues that matter to them, like product labelling or safety.
The leaders of IEC, ISO and ITU conclude: "The bottom line? International standards from IEC, ISO and ITU not only make good business sense, but greater efficiency helps society to make better use of its resources, contributing to a more sustainable world."
International Standards – Creating confidence globally
The World Standards Day message points out that international standards for products and services underpin quality, ecology, safety, reliability, interoperability, efficiency and effectiveness. Standards do all of this while giving manufacturers confidence in their ability to reach out to global markets safe in the knowledge that their product will perform globally.
This is because international standards provide interoperability which in turn creates economies of scale and ensures that users can obtain equal service wherever they travel. So international standards benefit consumers, manufacturers and service providers alike. Importantly, in developing countries this accelerates the deployment of new products and services and encourages economic development.
“In today’s world we need to have a high level of expectation that things will work the way we expect them to work,” the three leaders affirm.
“We expect that when we pick up the phone we will be able to instantly connect to any other phone on the planet. We expect to be able to connect to the Internet and be provided with news and information… instantly. When we fall ill, we rely on the healthcare equipment used to treat us. When we drive our cars, we have confidence that the engine management, steering and braking, and child safety systems are reliable. We expect to be protected against electrical power failure and the harmful effects of pollution.”
The heads of IEC, ISO and ITU underline that international standards create confidence globally, adding, “Indeed one of the key objectives of standardization is to provide this confidence. Systems, products and services perform as we expect them to because of the essential features specified in international standards.”
In addition, international standards create confidence by being developed in an environment of openness and transparency, where every stakeholder can contribute.
The three standardization leaders conclude by emphasizing that the objective of IEC, ISO and ITU is to “facilitate and augment this confidence globally, so as to connect the world with international standards”.
Standards make the world accessible for all
At least 650 million people globally are affected by some kind of disability; one quarter of all citizens in developed countries are 60 or older and, by 2050, most developing countries will have caught up.
Accessibility is increasingly an issue as the world population ages and people with disabilities demand equal access to social, political and economic life. For them, as well as for the able-bodied, access to information and communication is as important as is the ability to use an elevator, enter a building, travel, or safely turn on and use a device.
But accessibility is not only an issue for the elderly or disabled. Anybody at any stage in life can experience temporarily reduced accessibility. When that happens, simple, everyday activities can become very complicated. International standards give manufacturers and service providers the guidelines on how to design products accessible for all.
- A well designed wheelchair ramp conforming to an international standard may turn out to be really useful for a new mother with a baby carriage
- A device with a large switch may make things easier for someone with an injured hand
- A sensor stopping doors from closing can prevent accidents when a back injury impairs movement
- The little dot on the number 5 on a phone keypad makes it easier to find numbers – a boon in the first days after an eye operation.
International standards facilitate everybody’s access to products, structures and services. They include safety considerations, ergonomics and harmonized test methods all geared to increase accessibility. Standards also provide a platform for the dissemination of technological innovations both in developed and developing countries. They help markets to grow faster and increase global trade.
IEC, ISO and ITU coordinate their work and offer a system of standardization that helps designers, manufacturers and policy makers to make the world safer and more accessible for all, today and tomorrow.
Tackling climate change through standards
The world is facing a critical challenge. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions are raising the earth's average temperature. As a result, dramatic climate change is forecast and global scientific opinion predicts enormous developmental, economic, social and environmental stresses on our planet.
Leading climate change experts have put forward a series of practical solutions to tackle climate change. These solutions include the technical standards published by the world's three leading international standardization organizations: the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
In its groundbreaking report published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cited technical standards, like those published by the IEC, ISO and ITU, as a means of mitigating climate change now, while offering the potential to reduce its effects in the future as new technologies are developed and mature.
The three global organizations are coordinating their work to ensure that government, business and society are provided with the necessary tools to help combat global climate change and to support the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by increasing energy efficiency, while facilitating sustainable development.
The standards produced by the three organizations reach across all sectors identified in the IPCC report where mitigation technologies, policies and measures, constraints and opportunities exist, including energy supply, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry, and waste.
The IEC, ISO and ITU offer a system of standardization whose output includes standards for the following aspects of the fight against climate change:
- Monitoring and measurement of greenhouse gas emissions
- Measuring the carbon footprint of networks and products
- Designing and building energy efficient homes and workplaces
- Benchmarking for good practices including environmental and energy efficiency labeling
- Promoting good practice for environmental management and design, and for energy management
- Disseminating innovative technologies that promise to help reduce the effects of climate change
- Fostering the introduction of new energy-efficient technologies and services
International standards offer policy makers, industry and users the common tools they need to work together on tackling climate change. The three partner organizations also offer a comprehensive system in which nations and the private sector can participate to establish the priorities for tackling climate change in the years ahead. As such, they offer practical solutions with the potential to be used as part of any international agreement following on from the Kyoto Protocol.
Standards from the IEC, ISO and ITU offer the world's governments and industry the best possible benchmarks to be referenced in any policy making decisions or future climate treaties. The three organizations are working together with other international organizations to ensure that participants at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference on 7-18 December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, will be fully aware of the solutions offered by existing and future International Standards.
Intelligent and sustainable buildings
Our increasingly urban environment sees new construction forging ahead in developed and developing countries around the world. The work is essential to meet the needs of a world population that has more than doubled since 1950. Not surprisingly, therefore, the building and construction sector has grown into one of the largest global industries with immense consequences for all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.
With so much at stake, principles for sustainability need to be combined with a growing need for ICT connectivity for intelligent buildings that optimize energy efficiency, safety, security, communication and sheer convenience. International standards developed by IEC, ISO and ITU provide the means by which desirable principles and information and communication technology (ICT) connectivity are translated into practical application and implemented efficiently and effectively on a global scale.
Today, new commercial, governmental and residential buildings may need to meet a multiplicity of demands: from resistance to fire and flood, natural disasters and terrorist attack, through energy efficiency and a reduced environmental footprint, to ease of integration with ICT networks as well as accessibility for disabled or elderly persons.
Buildings represent a large share of the economic assets of individuals, organizations and nations. The sector is a major provider of employment; construction materials and processes have an impact on the health and safety of both construction workers and the people who live or work in buildings, and the quality of buildings has a direct influence on the quality of life. And from an environmental perspective, construction is both a huge consumer of natural resources and a generator of large amounts of waste and pollution. In addition, buildings are significant users of energy, with its related emission of greenhouse gases.
The international consensus between countries and among stakeholders, on which IEC, ISO and ITU standards is based, encourages their worldwide implementation. International consensus on standards for climate change mitigation, energy saving, environmental terminology, environmental performance, environmental declaration of building products, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission accounting and verification provides a firm foundation for designers and architects, engineers, owners and government authorities to develop sustainable buildings.
The work of IEC, ISO and ITU helps to link sustainable and intelligent building through standards that facilitate the connectivity of new buildings. Construction increasingly incorporates more and more electronic devices that link to networks distributing and using digital information and media. For example, the remote control of lighting, heating, appliance-use and security systems are making the "intelligent building" a reality. Given the various technologies involved, international standards that enable interoperability and security are key to bringing value and choice to consumers, making possible the use of diverse products, services and sources, and therefore accelerating market development and take up.
International standards from IEC, ISO and ITU applicable to today’s buildings increase production efficiency, optimize resources, disseminate knowledge, facilitate free trade and fair competition and simplify the design and planning of buildings. Among further benefits are competitively priced products and construction work, higher quality and safety, lower exploitation costs, reduced accidents and rapid dissemination of new technologies for an improved quality of life for the user and occupants of buildings.
International standards help to ensure not only basic quality and safety requirements, but also the incorporation of new technologies for the construction and operation of intelligent and sustainable buildings.
Standards and the citizen: Contributing to society
The Global Village brings a broad range of rights and obligations to its citizens. These include rights to safety, security, health and access to information. Obligations include protecting the environment and respecting the safety, property and privacy of others. Standards help citizens to exercise these rights and obligations. They do this, for example, by providing consumers with information and protection, by ensuring the quality and safety of products and services, by defining requirements or giving guidance related to the environment and other issues important to citizens including societal equity, health, security, information and communication, and fair trade.
A world without standards would soon grind to a halt. Transport and trade would seize up. The Internet would simply not function. Hundreds of thousands of systems dependent on information and communication technologies would falter or fail — from government and banking to healthcare, air traffic control, emergency services, disaster relief and even international diplomacy. So many aspects of the modern world are heavily dependent on standards.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of standards in our everyday lives. Consider the standards involved in reading this message. If you are sitting in front of a computer screen, hundreds of standards are at work running the computer, providing Internet access, and even defining the fonts and formatting of the text itself. If you are reading this message on paper, then the paper size probably conforms to a standard simplifying the printing and distribution processes. The power source for your computer or printer, the lighting, heating or air conditioning — all, to some extent, rely on standards.
Without standards, consider how difficult — or even dangerous — it would be to carry out ordinary, daily tasks. Safety standards for machinery protect us at work and at play. At home, standards keep electrical appliances connected to the national grid and keep our refrigerators and airconditioners compliant with environmental safeguards to prevent global warming. Our audio systems, television sets and DVD players, mobile phones and WiFi all comply with standards to make them compatible with other systems. From mobile videos and music to online education, telemedicine, e-banking and satellite navigation systems for our cars and aircraft — where would we be without standards in an increasingly networked world?
The work of IEC, ISO and ITU in developing international standards opens up markets but also brings environmental protection, safety, security, health and access to information and knowledge. Increasingly international standards are helping to break down the barriers between rich and poor nations. Standardization helps provide higher quality at lower costs by ensuring that competition exists between vendors. It makes it easier for consumers to make an informed choice about equipment or services that they buy.
International standardization has been in place for nearly 150 years. Today, with the understanding that standards can vastly expand the market for technological innovations, industry invests billions of dollars in standardization. Standards foster healthy commerce and fair prices. Global standards developed with open processes and with consensus among all stakeholders give access to global markets.
As we move into the future, the work of IEC, ISO and ITU will continue to facilitate the development and diffusion of new technologies that will drive the world economy, contributing to the well being of all of the world’s inhabitants.
Standards: big benefits for small business
Small business could claim to be the world’s biggest business. It is estimated that more than 95 per cent of the world’s businesses are small to medium sized. Thus, international standards need to provide as many benefits for small businesses as they do for global enterprises, governments and society at large.
Small business owners and managers are hard-working people, sharply focused on the survival of their enterprises, and international standardization might seem far removed from their practical concerns. However the fact is that international standards developed by ISO, the IEC and ITU have facilitated economic developments and the dissemination of technologies that empower small business, as much as their larger counterparts.
International standards have been instrumental in the development of the electrical power grids and telecommunication/ICT networks and global supply chains, opening up more opportunities for small business. Standards from the IEC, ITU and ISO have been and remain major contributors to such developments.
The global supply chains, offshore production and business process outsourcing that are providing new openings for small businesses, including those in developing countries, are built on a solid foundation of international standards.
ICT standardization in particular allows small businesses to reach far beyond their physical location in search of new markets. For example, with the spectacular growth of the internet, any company, regardless of size, can now easily have a shop window to the world. In addition, standardization supports digitized manufacturing and quality control processes, product information and financial transactions – forming a basis for partnerships and commerce unconstrained by location. These standards are complemented by ones for good managerial practice.
Additionally there are standards for products that add value to a growing number of the services provided by small businesses. Small businesses have at their disposal management systems and conformity assessment standards which can help to establish them as reliable suppliers and business partners, to satisfy regulations, or to qualify for procurement tendering.
For pro-active small business owners and managers who wish to identify potential opportunities that international standards may hold for their businesses, keeping abreast of developments in ITU, the IEC and ISO is key to seizing market trends and opportunities. Governments and trade associations in a number of countries have also launched standards-related initiatives for small businesses.
Clearly, international standards can provide big benefits for small business. International standards developed by ISO, ITU and the IEC provide practical solutions to many of the challenges faced by small business in today’s globalizing markets. In so doing, they allow small business owners and managers to enhance further their traditional virtues of hard work, enterprising spirit and close attention to the requirements and satisfaction of their customers.
Standards for a safer world
We all want to live in a safer, more secure world. But earthquakes and hurricanes, floods, transportation and domestic accidents, epidemics and industrial disasters still account for many thousands of deaths and injuries each year, in addition to material and social damage. International Standards offer widely accepted and recognized solutions to prevent and respond to these threats. The role that standards can play in preventing or mitigating such human and material losses is increasingly recognized and their use is rising as a consequence.
“Standards for a Safer World” is the theme of this year’s Worlds Standards Day to be celebrated on 14 October 2005. The International Standards produced by the world’s leading international standards-setting organizations – International Electrotechnical Commission, the International Organization for Standardization and the International Telecommunication Union – provide a valuable safety net.
The three organizations’ procedures and areas of expertise ensure that the world’s leading experts from industry, government, academia and society work together to develop International Standards that contribute to building a safer, more secure world. Their International Standards are thus based on a double level of consensus: amongst stakeholders and across countries.
The IEC, ISO and ITU offer a portfolio of thousands of International Standards specifically focusing on safety and security and relating to such diverse areas as:
- Products, systems and the global supply chain;
- Medical technologies and telemedicine;
- Measurement of the effects of nuclear radiation or electromagnetic emissions on the human body;
- Means to monitor illicit trafficking of radioactive material;
- Biometric technology for identifying people and protecting access to sensitive areas;
- Effective communications following a natural disaster or during an emergency;
- Cybersecurity and protection of the integrity of fixed and mobile communication networks.
IEC, ISO and ITU standards developed at the international level are available for use at the national and regional levels to meet societal, market and regulatory needs. They assist in disseminating best practices and new technologies, while avoiding new barriers to trade that national security and safety regulations may create.
For those technologies involving electricity, electronics and related technologies, the IEC produces both product-specific standards (for example, for electrical batteries or laptop computers) and system standards (for example, functional electrical safety in a factory system. Product standards enable goods to be certified to internationally recognized safety standards. Typical hazard abatement measures include protection against electric shock, excessive temperatures and fire, ensuring that equipment does not have sharp edges or moving parts, and protection against the effects of electromagnetic emissions on the human body.
Just a few of the many fields where ISO International Standards ensure safety include construction, transportation, safety in the home or at the workplace. From safety in buildings, including emergency, fire and alarm systems, to standards that help to protect car drivers and passengers (such as child restraint systems, anti-locking braking systems and airbags), to various aspects of food safety and quality (including a new food safety management system), to machinery safety standards, ISO standards help make the world a safer place. For its part, ITU is taking a leading role in the area of cybersecurity, developing standards that will help to combat cyber crime, including protection against identity theft. In the non-cyber world, ITU is working on standards that will allow the prioritization of calls in a disaster situation. This means that in an emergency, telecommunications networks can be effectively cleared of non-urgent calls. The new phenomenon of telemedicine, whereby doctors and surgeons located in different facilities can communicate and administer treatment remotely, is also possible thanks to ITU’s real-time multimedia standard.
Implementation of IEC, ISO and ITU International Standards at the national and/or regional level are helping make the world a safer place. The standards currently under development by the three organizations address the new safety and security challenges of the 21 st century. Together, the IEC, ISO and ITU are working to produce the “Standards for a Safer World”
Standards connect the world
From the simple to the complex, from the minute to the massive, from the local to the global, international standards are omnipresent in products and services and in the components of the global supply chains for which they provide the backbone.
The international standardization system that comprises ISO, IEC and ITU transforms qualities like efficiency, effectiveness, economy, quality, ecology, safety, reliability, compatibility and interoperability into concrete characteristics of products and services for implementation in their manufacture, supply or utilization. The three organizations thus develop workable solutions to technical and economic challenges faced by business, government and society and publish them as international standards.
The products and services shaped by international standards need to be transported, delivered, transferred or otherwise exchanged between suppliers and their customers or end users. Exchange necessitates connections and interfaces. International standards harmonize the connections and facilitate exchange by ensuring smoother, swifter, safer and more economical delivery.
The variety of exchange where standards overcome challenges is considerable: examples are getting food from farm to kitchen table, raw materials to processing plants and on to industrial users, products to distributors and shops and then to consumers, power from generating plants to industry and the home, messages that pass between telecommunication networks and computer systems.
The connections and interfaces that standardization renders more efficient and more effective are just as varied. They may be mechanical, electrical or computer-based - or combinations. They range from pipes and couplings, to lifting and handling gear, pallets,freight containers, switches, cables and connectors, computer hardware and software, to transport, power and information and communications technology (ICT) networks.
In turn, the scale of standardization ranges from point to point (be they next door or on opposite sides of the globe), to whole countries (as in the case of power grids), to worldwide (such as ICT networks).
In addition to connecting markets, international standards connect developing countries and transition economies to state-of-the-art technological know-how enabling them to increase their export capability and competitiveness.
Beyond the technical and economic benefits of international standards, participating in their development enhances human connectedness. It is a matter for pride and optimism that thousands of men and women of different political and religious beliefs, national and racial origins and cultural backgrounds come together within ISO, IEC and ITU to cooperate effectively on the task of achieving international consensus on standards that make a positive difference to our world.
Standards provide solutions, get the job done, connect people. Standards connect the world.
Global standards for the global information society
Today, we have access to more information than ever before, and, as the cost to access that information plummets, its audience increases. Sociologists no longer refer to the technology, computer or even the electronic age. The society that this generation is building is the Information Society, promising fundamental change in all aspects of our lives. But for its benefits to be truly equitably distributed, its reach must be global.
Digital electronics - computer networks, digital TV, 3G phones and a host of related, hardware, software, and services - provide the key building blocks for the Information Society. Collectively, they are known as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Without ICTs - the technologies that are essential to disseminating information and/or knowledge electronically - a global Information Society would not be possible. ICTs have a direct impact on almost every aspect of social development - from education through healthcare, public administration, economics, finance and banking, commerce and business, international relations, and technology transfer to poverty reduction.
ICTs mostly had their origins in mature industrial societies, and now play an increasingly important role in helping developing countries and economies in transition to fulfil their potential. The challenge is how best to employ the tools of the Information Society to achieve development goals on a global scale, maximizing the benefits while minimizing obstacles and barriers.
Key to making ICTs work for developing countries are the international standards created by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). International standards simplify the use of existing and new technologies, reduce costs and complexity, open markets and foster broader access to products and services. In today's age of converging digital technologies, the three organizations are working ever more closely across the entire ICT spectrum.
International standards are agreements on best practices that are shared and adopted worldwide. They result from a process incorporating six principles defined by the World Trade Organization (WTO) - they are open, transparent, impartial and consensus-based, effective and relevant, coherent, and have a development dimension.
The development dimension is critical to bridging what is often termed the "Digital Divide" between the "haves" and "have-nots" of ICT and information. The potential benefits of international standards for developing economies and those in transition include significantly better opportunities for developing local industries and internal markets. They help lower costs, broaden the choice of partners and suppliers, create products with worldwide market coverage and acceptance, and expand export opportunities by reducing technical barriers to trade. Participation in the standards making processes of IEC, ISO, and ITU gives stakeholders the opportunity to shape standards according to their views and specific needs - whether in the developed or the developing world.
This year, the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) sets out not only to address a broad range of social, economic and technical questions but also to draw up an action plan to bridge the Digital Divide. ISO, the IEC and ITU are actively involved in the preparatory process for WSIS to ensure that the critical role played by international standards in offering the best tools to support both growth of the Information Society and more equitable development is fully appreciated by the heads of state that will be attending the Summit in Geneva, Switzerland from 10-12 December 2003.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America estimates that it took 70 years to span the radio divide and 40 to overcome the television divide. ISO, the IEC and ITU aim to ensure that international standards bring about a far swifter end to today's Digital Divide.
One Standard, one test, accepted everywhere
Standards and tests go hand in hand and are key to the development of the global market. Standards give specifications or requirements for products, services, systems, processes and materials. Tests then verify that these standards can be met reliably over time. Once these standards are accepted broadly at an international level, they can further foster the development of a global market for the goods or services - a market built on consistent quality and consumer confidence.
Standards are a technical language that businesses the world over use to create goods, services and systems. Since businesses everywhere understand it, the goods and services they produce based on this language should have the same quality wherever they are made. Standards may come about to achieve a variety of objectives such as ensuring safety and performance, but their basic and essential nature is that, by establishing certain parameters, they provide a common technological foundation for producing goods, services and systems anywhere.
In parallel, a common confidence-building foundation for exchanging these goods and services between buyers and sellers in the global market comes from using internationally agreed standards and tests together to verify that the requirements of these standards are being met. The technical term for this foundation is "conformity assessment". A concrete example is when a testing laboratory assesses whether or not a product or a service conforms to a specified standard.
Participants in a free market rely on confidence to ensure a fair exchange of goods and services and the essential aspect of conformity assessment is that it helps to ensure this confidence because it is a valid means to verify claims about quality, performance, and other parameters. For international standards to make a maximum contribution to achieving the objective of facilitating trade, it is important that all countries participate in developing and adopting them.
The three leading organizations that develop and disseminate standards and recommendations for the global market are the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The inclusive nature of the three standards organizations helps to achieve the objective of truly global trade. In addition, several conformity assessment schemes exist for organizing the testing of products to standards. The combination of standards and conformity assessment serve the market by helping to lower technical barriers to trade - which results in lower manufacturing costs - and to raise the level of confidence between buyers and sellers. Relevant international conformity assessment mechanisms, standards, guides and recommendations could also help to underpin Mutual Recognition Agreements at different levels.
The IEC, ISO and the ITU encourage the development of standards through a continual dialogue with industry and government. In this way the development of single standards and tests can reflect the diversity of opinion in the global market, and encourage market development without stifling innovation. With such a system, buyers and sellers may be able to agree more easily on the value inherent in the products and services for sale in the market. By helping to make any one part of the global trading system more efficient, the three organizations can help to make the entire market that much more efficient. Ultimately, an efficient market benefits everyone: manufacturers, consumers, governments, testing laboratories, and all other participants in the market.
The environment and standards: close together
The aftermath of the Rio Earth summit and of the Kyoto Convention have shown the difficulty faced by many governments in coming to grips with global environmental issues. The merit of these high-profile events however is that they have created a new consciousness among business, industry and consumers of many positive steps that they can themselves take with or without a strict regulatory framework.
International standards have for many decades been a primary tool in resolving such issues. They address the quality, safety, produceability and many other aspects of an ever-growing array of products, processes and services as technological and industrial development accelerates around the world. They are based on international consensus. By offering globally applicable solutions, they are cost-effective and allow all to take advantage of the knowledge and experience gained in the more advanced economies.
Perhaps most importantly in dealing with environmental issues, they are for voluntary adoption by anyone from a single individual to a government or group of governments, which means that they can be used and acted upon before legal requirements are introduced.
The three apex international organizations that lead the development and dissemination of these standards and recommendations are the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). By their nature, by necessity and by design, these organizations and their publications are in the front line of efforts to meet perhaps the greatest and certainly one of the most public challenges of the new century - our environment, how to protect it, how to manage it better.
In much of the industrialized world, management of environmental issues has become as much a cornerstone of business practice as health, safety and quality. But it is self-evident that not all countries have the resources of the industrialized world. Environmental aspects of standards are significantly different in at least one respect from other broad-ranging subjects of international standardization such as quality. The basic arguments for environmental considerations in standards are the same as those for sustainable development. The environmental aspects of standardization are in fact a component of sustainable development.
ISO, the IEC and ITU also have an important responsibility as well as an active role in helping developing and newly industrialized countries to become environmentally conscious while contributing to make their own future economically and environmentally stable. Whether it is in management, product, systems, process, measurement or testing standards - or indeed by facilitating sustainable development through the spread of standardized telecommunications - each organization has its part to play and each works with a host of others to have the widest possible consensus as well as the most globally beneficial effect.
Having more than 30 years of active involvement with the issues, ISO, the IEC and ITU have a three-dimensional approach to the environmental aspects of standardization. Hundreds of standards already exist, for example, dealing with specific questions such as the sampling, testing and analysis of air, water and soil. Thousands more covering a multitude of physical products, increasingly in the electrical, electronic and telecommunication spheres, already contain information and recommendations on environmental aspects like materials, industrial processes, recycling and waste disposal. Many of these will also have an important role in current efforts to help consumers with standardized, clear and easily understood eco-labelling. At the strategic level, international standards on environmental management offer a structure, a methodology and practical tools to help organizations of all types to manage the impact of their activities on the environment.
All these standards are available for industry to use in environmentally conscious design and manufacture, in effect to regulate itself as regards the environment. In the area of telecommunications, standardized systems enable scientists around the world to collect, analyze and disseminate data on climate change, on the state of our waters or underground resources, providing the authoritative indicators by which remedial solutions can be elaborated and implemented to protect our environment.
Even international standards cannot be all things to all people. But the informed, realistic
and responsible way in which ISO, the IEC and ITU are addressing environmental issues that affect us all will have a growing impact on society's response to meeting its own expectations. The environment and international standards are perhaps more than just close together. For the foreseeable future, they are inextricably linked.
International Standards for peace and prosperity
In a world that changes and evolves ever more rapidly - technically, economically and in all kinds of international relations - human beings have a strong need for stabilizing influences. In their constant quest to explore, create and develop, they also need to bring greater order, peace and prosperity to the world. In this seeming paradox, they almost invariably need a known starting point, some 'rules of procedure' and eventually a common basis for measuring progress, acceptability and achievement.
At the philosophical or intellectual level, these are provided by moral or ethical standards that can theoretically be adopted and applied by anyone in any walk of life. Specifically in technology and science, and therefore in the vast proportion of industrial, business and economic spheres, they are most often articulated in the consensus-based documents published as International Standards or Recommendations by the three truly global standardization bodies: the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
These technical standards, too, are voluntarily conceived, elaborated, adopted and applied by users ranging all the way from individuals through companies, professional associations and national governments to regional groupings. They are democratically developed in the widest global perspective, aiming to offer the greatest good to the greatest number.
There can be no such thing as an absolute, immutable standard, either intellectual or technical. Like morals and ethics that have evolved and been refined over the millennia, International Standards in the 21st Century are living guidelines and specifications. They must retain a degree of flexibility and be open to adaptation, modernization and improvement, even withdrawal or replacement when changing circumstances, technologies or markets so demand.
But to achieve the desired result among the interested parties - whether these be safety regulators, development engineers or competing manufacturers, for example - the standards development process must first allow an essential level of consensus, a stable foundation on which to build an agreed route forward. One vital role of IEC, ISO and ITU standards and other technical agreements is therefore to create an equilibrium, a form of peace, from all the competing technical, economic, social and environmental pressures that make up our modern world.
Just as it is easy to be cynical about the chances of achieving global peace and prosperity, it is easy to be sceptical about the consensual base on which international standards are developed, seeing consensus as "soft compromizer" and, therefore, ineffective. In fact, building consensus from starting positions that may be very far apart and held by powerful market players often requires much discussion, vigorous debate and argument, negotiation and, on occasions, confrontation among market players.
This by its nature is neither an easy nor in many cases a fast process. But it is the huge benefits, not only for the participants but most importantly for the prosperity and convenience of mankind in general, that drive international standardization forward. The global technical agreements forged in the IEC, ISO and ITU help to set and maintain the highest levels of safety, performance and quality in a vast range of products and services, to ensure their environmental friendliness, to foster technical understanding and technology exchange around the world, and to promote the rapidly expanding business and trade among nations that are a hallmark of our times and the cornerstones of sustainable social as well as economic development.
Recognition of the importance of International Standards comes in different ways and forms, and from different sectors of society. At one end of the scale, the fact that our everyday reliance on product safety, the availability of robust communications and a constantly increasing quality of service bears tribute to the value of thousands of unseen standards from the IEC, ISO and ITU. At the other end, the World Trade Organisation's Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade emphasizes the vital role played by International Standards in providing the technical foundation for global markets and calls on all governments to make maximum use of them in lowering unnecessary technical barriers to free trade.
Without agreement, there can be no peace. And without peace, there can be no lasting prosperity. International Standards are an essential tool in mankind's continuing efforts to achieve more of both.
Building on standards
This year, the World Standards Day theme highlights the importance of International Standards in the construction industry, which has been one of the basic human activities throughout the thousands of years of human progress.
There will never be a standard for beautiful design, but to lay the foundations for an intelligent museum or a sophisticated city infrastructure, standards need to be shared and applied on a practical daily basis by the many professionals. These range from designers, architects, civil engineers to manufacturers, regulators and contractors all the way to the companies who spend billions on construction goods and related services each year. The relevant standards range from the more obvious building standards to those covering telecommunications, electrical installations, electronics, networking and the associated safety standards.
When a Japanese construction company following Canadian plans builds a factory in Chile, everybody understands the need for totally transparent, universally comprehen-sible technical standards. Each professional organization involved in the supply of material and components from mechanical equipment to electrical systems relies on these "tools" that International Standards represent.
If, today, 100 building professionals were to come together from all over the world to build a tunnel, they would virtually take for granted the effectiveness of standardization that provides the building blocks for the work, without hampering individual design or imposing unwanted features on the finished product.
As in electronic commerce or any other technology sphere, standardization is at its best when it is international. The technical agreements developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) supply the foundations needed for different products and services, no matter where they are produced.
IEC, ISO and ITU - as the three apex organizations in international standardization - are in the position to provide the necessary overall, all-encompassing view that takes
in all spheres of intellectual, scientific, technological and economic activity. The very nature of the international, open and consensus-based standards process ensures that the final standards, be they for products or services, represent the collective knowledge and experience of all sides involved - industries, governments, research institutes, testing laboratories and consumer organizations.
Small and big companies all over the world acknowledge the benefits of International Standards. Many customers and suppliers promote actively the need to join the international standardization network of IEC, ISO and ITU.
The return on investment by participating in the international standards development process can be seen at various levels within each sector. The first level is usually that
of the creation of a common language. This enables a manufacturer to communicate clearly, without fear of ambiguities or misunderstandings, with a customer's product engineers, designers, and purchasing agents anywhere in the world. And it allows the same clarity with suppliers. Everyone gains. At another level, today a commercial, as well as a social - and more and more a legal - requirement is to address concerns of public health and safety as well as the impact a product or service may have on the environment.
Quoting one user and developer of standards : "If your exports have to be modified to conform to the national standards of a customer then you clearly have had no part in the development of those standards. Any redesign of your product or service to meet the technical specifications of that country represents a bit out of your profit margin. You're winning some, but you're also spending some. And if you have customers in several countries each with its own unique national standard, then you're spending even more.
If on the other hand, the client country is using International Standards, that makes things clearer and more cost-effective for everyone."
Today, quantitative and qualitative requirements arising from the population explosion and natural aspirations for higher living standards makes building one of the key areas for the satisfaction of human needs ever more important. A recent study of the construction process in the 21st century made by Sweden's Lund University, says
that from many parts of the world there are demands for increased productivity in the construction process, higher quality of construction products, increased consideration of property management and a more holistic view of the entire process. To ensure these improve, International Standards are key tools for staying abreast of technology-driven business development.
As many of those who are part of the construction and associated industries already know, to build well, for the long term, to build internationally, rationally, and cost-effectively, International Standards hold a key to the solution.
Standards in daily life
While we normally don't think about standards unless their absence causes inconvenience, it would be extremely difficult in fact to imagine daily life without standards. Take any scenario, and you will be amazed just how many standards support that aspect of daily life. From the moment you wake, throughout the day, standards in some form are helping to shape your day, to make it easier, more comfortable, safer, and simply more convenient. Imagine, for example, not being able to withdraw money from an automated telling machine (ATM) because your bank card is too big to fit in the slot; imagine batteries that will not fit any of your electrical equipment; stores without barcodes to quantify and price stocks of goods; imagine Internet sites without standardized domain names.
The truth is that a day without standards is inconceivable. In today's world, where we expect fast, efficient communications, we demand compatibility and interoperability between electronic appliances, and we want our work tools, our consumer goods and our products to be cheap, easily available and of the best quality. International standards are hence absolutely essential - even if most of the time they are so invisible as to be taken for granted. When they do their job, you are glad they are there, but the idea barely crosses your mind that you are being "protected" by International Standards. Yet you are.
In the mind of the person in the street, a standard refers to a "benchmark" that has been selected as a model to which objects or actions may be compared. They provide the end-user with a criterion for judgement, a measurement of quality, and a certain guarantee of compatibility and interoperability. Whether it is a standard to ensure global linking of telephone networks, a standard to ensure that life-saving medical equipment in the hospital is electromagnetically compatible, or a standard to help a company in providing a service that is quality managed and environmentally friendly, International Standards provide a veritable backbone for daily life. They encourage an improved quality of life by contributing to safety, human health and the protection of the environment.
Standards are so useful and relevant to daily life because they are based on the experi-ences of daily life itself, and developed from the perceived needs of actors in the different spheres and fields. They are thus the material results of these experiences, establishing a workable compromise between state-of-the-art technology and the economic constraints.
International standards are the consensus-based documents which are adopted nationally or regionally on a voluntary basis. ISO, IEC and ITU, whose scopes of standardization complement each other, form a complete system for the supply of voluntary international technical agreements. Published as International Standards or Recommendations, these agreements are helping to bring about the compatibility of technology worldwide. If machines, systems or devices work together, in many cases you have International Standards to thank for it - even if few are those that realize it.
Standards are developed in response to the needs of life today; the three organizations' work programmes are geared to deliver the International Standards for tomorrow, the daily life of meeting an ever-changing spectrum of technological innovation.