Seizing the power of international standards

8 December 2015
ITC News
To seize the full potential of standards, we must know how to best apply it, writes Kevin McKinley.

It is not enough to say that knowledge is power. To seize its full potential, we should know how to best apply it. International standards, practical knowledge and information, offer tremendous opportunities for development and growth.

‘Give a man fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to how fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ Imagine for a second you are that aspiring fisherman. The standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the world’s largest developer of international standards, could show much more than what you need to start fishing. Because they are written by experts in their fields, a standard might explain what fishing technique is best for each situation or what the best baits are so you don’t waste time and effort.

Once you open your fishing business, whether it is a one-man job or a big venture, standards can be used to review and streamline your processes to utilize resources more efficiently. There may be standards to help take care of the environment, reduce pollution and avoid overfishing.

When you are ready to sell your product in the market, an ISO standard could explain what conditions must be met to give customers confidence in your products. If you participate in the standards-setting process, you have a say on what those requirements are and how they are shaped.

International standards are full of useful, practical information to help would-be entrepreneurs become competitive and successful. Regulators too can rely on international standards to help harmonize local requirements and meet expectations of global industries, which in turn boost trade and increase prosperity.

There are many ways that developing countries can seize the power of international standards to meet their goals of sustainable development. For example, the road to progress is paved with an efficient use of resources and improved environmental protection. ISO standards can help reduce our impact on the environment in a strategic, business-minded manner.

Examples of standards that can help businesses succeed include ISO/TS 14067 on carbon footprint, ISO 14001 on environmental management and ISO 14064 on the monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions. There are also standards for energy efficiency, tracking your water footprint and green buildings.


City managers can rely on ISO standards for smart cities to improve quality of life while meeting development goals.

Reducing vulnerability to crises and natural disasters is important for many developing countries as these have huge social and economic impact. ISO is working on a standard on resilience indicators and already has a number of standards on societal security. Other examples include a standard to help water utilities operate through an emergency, or even building standards to withstand disasters, some of which have been developed with lower resource areas in mind.

Social justice issues resulting from a disparity of incomes and opportunities is another big concern. The use of ISO 26000 on social responsibility can help organizations play their part in addressing gender inequality, human rights abuses and child labour issues.


These are simple examples of how standards can be used to meet the goals of sustainable development. It is important that developing countries play an active role in the ISO by promoting the national use of international standards and taking an appropriate role in their development. ISO is committed to the development dimension of its standards. The organization has a dedicated a policy committee on developing country issues and offer extensive training and educational opportunities. ISO also provides for ‘twinned’ participation and leadership in technical committees – a process in which ISO members help build the capacity of developing countries to get more involved in standards development.

If knowledge is power, so too then are standards. Developing countries can use standards to fuel prosperity through improved trade, education, environmental performance, transportation efficiency, energy usage and much more. The first step is knowing what standards can do for you. Don’t stop there, though. Put them to work.