ISO is making enormous progress in developing standards for sustainability and is taking the lead in this area through standards like ISO 14001 (environmental management) and ISO 50001 (energy management), according to Dr. Patrick Gallagher, the US Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
“I applaud and celebrate ISO for taking the lead in sustainability standardization. In particular, ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 are models for how to approach sustainability in practice and in management,” he said in his opening address at the 35th General Assembly of ISO, the world's largest developer of International Standards, on 19 September in San Diego, USA, hosted by the ISO member for the country, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a founder member of the organization.
Dr. Gallagher said: "Sustainability is the right priority. Wisely managing a world of finite resources is one of the key societal challenges we face. As all of you know, standards play an essential role in how we assess the challenge.
"Sustainability is not about looking about one part of the process, but the entire life cycle of a product: design, production, use and disposal. It's about engaging producers, distributors, regulators, buyers and users.
"In a global market, I can’t think of a challenge more important for us to undertake. As we develop the standards framework, it will also unleash innovation and creativity. It's a worthy challenge."
Dr. Gallagher also emphasized the importance of global standards to companies and consumers "because technology is not within national boundaries but on a global scale".
ISO President, Dr. Boris Aleshin, pointed out that when ISO began operations in 1947, it had 26 members. "Today," he said, "the ISO family is made up of the national standards bodies of 164 countries, including industrialized, developing and transitional economies, from all regions of the world."
Dr. Aleshin told delegates that ISO had a huge opportunity to achieve greater strategic recognition of the value of standardization to business, government and consumers. But he warned, "We, at ISO, need to ensure that customers know about ISO, that we are not just talking from the 'inside to the inside' – that is amongst ourselves.
"The 'inside must talk to the outside' and we must find the most compelling and vivid ways of doing so, so that we show clearly how standards benefit those 'on the outside'. To do this, we should find new forms to communicate, new ideas to debate and decide on actions – and to be simpler, faster and better in everything we do."
He was followed as a speaker by Jim Pauley, Chair of ANSI's Board of Directors, who told delegates: "As standards professionals, you know that standards and conformance play a critical role in the economy. We often like to cite a US Department of Commerce figure that standardization impacts more than 80 % of global commodity trade. The jury’s still out on what that will mean for 2012, but in 2011, that 80 % impact came to more than USD 13 trillion dollars.
"It’s clear that effective utilization of standards and conformance promotes technological interoperability and the global competitiveness of all businesses. And greater cooperation and information-sharing will improve cost savings and increase efficiencies – clearly a top priority in today’s economic landscape. When individual businesses do well, there is a corresponding improvement in our national economies.
"But standards and conformance also play another important role in the global marketplace. They demonstrate quality and inspire consumer confidence."
The ISO General Assembly takes place on 19 and 21 September with a break on 20 September for an open session addressing two of the challenges facing the international community – innovation and the economics of sustainable development – areas where International Standards are making clear contributions. But could they do more?