ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is the world’s largest developer and publisher of International Standards.
ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 163 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system.
ISO is a non-governmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. On the one hand, many of its member institutes are part of the governmental structure of their countries, or are mandated by their government. On the other hand, other members have their roots uniquely in the private sector, having been set up by national partnerships of industry associations.
Therefore, ISO enables a consensus to be reached on solutions that meet both the requirements of business and the broader needs of society.
Because “International Organization for Standardization” would have different acronyms in different languages (“IOS” in English, “OIN” in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), its founders decided to give it also a short, all-purpose name. They chose “ISO”, derived from the Greek isos, meaning “equal”. Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of the organization’s name is always ISO.
Why standards matter
Standards make an enormous and positive contribution to most aspects of our lives.
Standards ensure desirable characteristics of products and services such as quality, environmental friendliness, safety, reliability, efficiency and interchangeability – and at an economical cost.
When products and services meet our expectations, we tend to take this for granted and be unaware of the role of standards. However, when standards are absent, we soon notice. We soon care when products turn out to be of poor quality, do not fit, are incompatible with equipment that we already have, are unreliable or dangerous.
When products, systems, machinery and devices work well and safely, it is often because they meet standards. And the organization responsible for many thousands of the standards which benefit the world is ISO.
When standards are absent, we soon notice
What standards do
- make the development, manufacturing and supply of products and services more efficient, safer and cleaner
- facilitate trade between countries and make it fairer
- provide governments with a technical base for health, safety and environmental legislation, and conformity assessment
- share technological advances and good management practice
- disseminate innovation
- safeguard consumers, and users in general, of products and services
- make life simpler by providing solutions to common problems
Who standards benefit
ISO standards provide technological, economic and societal benefits.
For businesses, the widespread adoption of International Standards means that suppliers can develop and offer products and services meeting specifications that have wide international acceptance in their sectors. Therefore, businesses using International Standards can compete on many more markets around the world.
For innovators of new technologies, International Standards on aspects like terminology, compatibility and safety speed up the dissemination of innovations and their development into manufacturable and marketable products.
For customers, the worldwide compatibility of technology which is achieved when products and services are based on International Standards gives them a broad choice of offers. They also benefit from the effects of competition among suppliers.
For governments, International Standards provide the technological and scientific bases underpinning health, safety and environmental legislation.
For trade officials, International Standards create “a level playing field” for all competitors on those markets. The existence of divergent national or regional standards can create technical barriers to trade. International Standards are the technical means by which political trade agreements can be put into practice.
For developing countries, International Standards that represent an international consensus on the state of the art are an important source of technological know-how. By defining the characteristics that products and services will be expected to meet on export markets, International Standards give developing countries a basis for making the right decisions when investing their scarce resources and thus avoid squandering them.
For consumers, conformity of products and services to International Standards provides assurance about their quality, safety and reliability.
For everyone, International Standards contribute to the quality of life in general by ensuring that the transport, machinery and tools we use are safe.
For the planet we inhabit, International Standards on air, water and soil quality, on emissions of gases and radiation and environmental aspects of products can contribute to efforts to preserve the environment. Â
What’s different about ISO 9001 and ISO 14001
The vast majority of ISO standards are highly specific to a particular product, material, or process. However, ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environment) are “generic management system standards“. “Generic” means that the same standard can be applied to any organization, large or small, whatever its product or service, in any sector of activity, and whether it is a business enterprise, a public administration, or a government department. ISO 9001 contains a generic set of requirements for implementing a quality management system and ISO 14001 for an environmental management system.
Generic standards can be applied to any organization