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No matter the challenge, solutions cannot be developed in a vacuum. The robust U.S. standards and conformance system is a powerful example of how a consensus-based public-private partnership can work to develop concrete solutions to real-world problems.

What can standards do for my organization, my members, and my industry?

By participating in standards development activities that affect your products and services – and by implementing standards and conformance tools that can help you streamline your processes and trim costs – your company can continue to build market share and boost your bottom line.

Why should my staff spend company time on standards development?

For more than a century, voluntary consensus standardization and conformity assessment activities have been coalescing markets and saving money for organizations in both the private and public sectors.

But if you’re reading this website, chances are that you either don’t know a lot about standards, or you need help educating your colleagues and executive leaders about the value of standards.

Let’s begin at the beginning . . .

What is a standard?

A standard is established by consensus and provides rules, guidelines, or characteristics for activities or their results.

Why are standards important?

Behind the scenes, standards make everyday life work. They may establish size or shape or capacity of a product, process or system. They can specify performance of products or personnel. They also can define terms so that there is no misunderstanding among those using the standard. As examples, standards help ensure that a light bulb fits a socket, that you can take money out of any ATM in the world, and plugs for electrical appliances fit outlets.

In the U.S. alone, there are more than 100,000 standards at work across all industry sectors. These include:

  • Product-Based Standards (examples: car airbags, washing machines, banking cards)
  • Performance-Based Standards (examples: toy safety, greenhouse gas emissions, food safety)
  • Management System Standards (examples: ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 Quality and Environmental Management Systems)
  • Personnel Certification Standards (examples: cyber-risk technicians, food handlers, crane operators)
  • Construction Standards for buildings and systems in the built environment (examples: building, electrical, and plumbing codes)

Who creates standards?

In the United States, any entity or individual can participate in standards development activities. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you’re interested in working on, and then finding the standards development organizations that are currently working in that area. The U.S. market-driven, sector-based approach to standards development offers flexibility, efficiency, and a responsiveness that is unparalleled in most other nations.

Lots of companies, organizations, trade associations, consumer groups, and government agencies are already developing standards. And by being an active part of the process, these groups are gaining a tangible competitive advantage over their competitors. For example, they are:

  • Gaining insider knowledge and early access to information
  • Exerting influence on technical content
  • Developing new markets for products, services, and technologies, and keeping market access doors open

Hundreds of standards developing organizations (SDOs) and consortia are engaged in the creation and maintenance of standards used in virtually every industry sector. These SDOs — and the experts who populate their committees — work to enhance quality of life and improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses operating in the global marketplace.

What is conformity assessment?

Conformity assessment is defined as any activity concerned with determining directly or indirectly that relevant requirements are fulfilled. Sometimes, conformity assessment is referred to as conformance or compliance.

While a standard is a technical expression of how to make a product safe, efficient, and compatible with others, a standard alone cannot guarantee performance. Conformity assessment, however, provides assurance to consumers by increasing consumer confidence when personnel, products, systems, processes or services are evaluated against the requirements of a voluntary standard.

How is compliance with standards verified?

Conformity assessment is a vital link between standards that define product characteristics and the products themselves. It can verify whether a particular product meets a given level of quality or safety. And it can provide information about the product’s characteristics, the consistency of those characteristics, and the performance of the product.

Product problems (such as the 2007 toy recalls) are frequently not due to inadequacy of the standard, but rather conformance to the standard. Testing, inspection, and auditing of products and management systems is as important as the standard in ensuring that products and systems are safe and perform as expected.

The task of assessing compliance to a standard may fall to a manufacturer, to an independent third party like an auditor or testing lab, or to a public official like a building code inspector.

On almost any given day, a standards group or technical committee is meeting and making decisions that could affect your bottom line.

Shouldn’t you be involved?

Read on:

Beyond the bottom line: standards impact quality, lead-time, factory flexibility, and supply chain management.
Standardization and conformity assessment activities lead to lower costs by reducing redundancy, minimizing errors, and reducing time to market.
Demonstrating compliance to standards helps your products, services, and personnel to cross borders. Standards also make cross-border interoperability possible, ensuring that products manufactured in one country can be sold and used in another.
Businesses not only reduce the economic risk of their research and development activities by participating in standardization, they can also lower their overall R&D costs by relying on previously standardized technologies and terminologies.