Back in 1947, the purpose of the fledgling organization was to facilitate the coordination and unification of standards developed by its member bodies, all of which were national standardization entities in their respective countries. The founders decided that the organization would be open to every country wanting to collaborate – with equal rights and equal duties.
These founding principles still hold true today and the ISO family has blossomed to include 163* members from almost every country in the world. Standardization has come a long way and ISO International Standards, which now cover almost all aspects of technology and business, will continue to ensure positive change in an evolving world.
The first steps
Following the creation of the organization, 67 groups of experts (called technical committees) were set up in specific technical fields such as screw threads, marine technology, food, textiles, paints and laboratory equipment with a mandate to develop International Standards. This led to the birth, in 1951, of the first ISO standard (called “Recommendations” at the time) –ISO/R 1:1951, Standard reference temperature for industrial length measurements. Since then, the ISO portfolio has expanded to include over 22 000 standards supporting all the important technological, environmental and social changes that have taken place in the world.
“For 70 years, ISO has made standards that have shaped our history and accompanied the world’s greatest innovations. From the standardization of materials, components and equipment for the aerospace or automotive industry to the measurement of environmental pollutants, from establishing a management system to ensure food safety in the supply chain to creating guidelines for human-robot interaction, the need for international standardization has always evolved with the needs of industry and society,” says ISO President Dr Zhang Xiaogang.
Expanding the community
ISO has worked hard over the years to broaden its circle of stakeholders, bringing different audiences to standardization, such as consumers or developing countries. The 1950s saw a number of new ISO member bodies join the organization from the developing world. To respond to these members’ needs, ISO set up in 1961 the ISO Committee for developing country matters (ISO/DEVCO), which helps them get the most out of standards development work. Today, three-quarters of ISO’s members are from developing countries.
Helping to improve the satisfaction and safety of consumers is another vital role of standards. Integrating their views in standards development is therefore essential because these real-life perspectives help ensure that issues such as safety and quality are adequately addressed. The importance of consumer leverage was endorsed by the creation, in 1978, of a Council Committee on Consumer Policy, now officially known as the ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO), to promote and encourage consumer interests in standards.
Effective and wide-reaching stakeholder engagement is essential in maintaining the relevance of International Standards. To ensure a strong relationship between standards and innovation, ISO has built collaborative ties with a network of global and regional organizations, including a partnership with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and has forged links with over 700 international organizations working in fields related to standardization. Furthermore, the contribution of large and small businesses, regulatory authorities and governments throughout the world is fundamental to the proper functioning of ISO.
Challenges for the future
"For the past 70 years, ISO has developed standards that drive industrial progress, promote global commerce and improve health, safety and the environment. But this is just the beginning", says Dr Zhang.
“Looking to the future, it is clear that our world faces many challenges that cut across national borders. Climate change, water scarcity, cyber security and large-scale migration are just some of the issues we face today that require integrated, international action.”
Many of these challenges have been included in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations as part of their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Launched in 2015, the SDGs set ambitious targets for the next 15 years and will help concentrate international action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.
“The ISO community has many standards that can help organizations and companies address this agenda,” says the ISO President. “We are ready to provide efficient tools to help the different communities worldwide face up to these challenges and shape a better world.” The future of standardization is promising.
What is a standard?
ISO standards provide requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics to ensure that products and services are safe, reliable and of good quality.
Who develops standards?
ISO standards are developed by groups of experts (representatives of industry, non-governmental organizations, governments and other stakeholders) from all over the world within technical committees.
How are standards developed?
ISO standards are developed using a consensus-based approach combining comments from all stakeholders. The development process follows a series of well-defined stages, from proposal to publication.