14 October 2021

World Standards Day – A shared vision for a better future

On 14 October, we celebrate World Standards Day – a great opportunity to reflect on the important role that standards play in shaping the common rules, formats, formulas and test methods that manage our world.

This year’s celebrations highlight the link between standards and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Can standards truly contribute to these ambitious objectives? Yes, they can  – and should!

Standards provide a shared language and powerful tools that can translate global principles into action. The devil is in the detail, however: if the environment is ignored in their development, the planet – and its people – will face negative, and sometimes dangerous, consequences.

At ECOS, we believe that standards are essential tools to prevent a climate breakdown, and realise the SDGs, which is why our members and experts have been advocating for environmentally ambitious standards for more than 20 years. For standards to truly support sustainability, however, we need an inclusive global standardisation system, giving all stakeholders, including environmental NGOs,  a voice at the standardisation table.

How can ambitious standards help us realise SDGs? Take a look at some of our examples!

 

Standards make it easier to ‘choose reuse’

Worldwide consumption and production — a driving force of the global economy — rest on the use of natural environment and resources in a way that continues to have destructive impacts on the planet. Switching to (more) sustainable patterns is a must, and the work on SDG12 is dedicated to just that: making sure we implement fundamental changes in the ways we produce, consume, and use our products and services.

Products need to change. They should be reusable, repairable and recyclable at the end of their lives. Standards can be a powerful tool in support of legislation to improve the so called ‘material efficiency’ of materials such as plastic. A reusable bottle, agreed upon by different manufacturers? Sure! Standards could provide homogeneous packaging specifications, at the same time boosting recyclate quality and making it easier to effectively introduce old plastics into new products. We could all choose reuse – but only with robust standards harmonising packaging systems and formats.

 

Lower energy bills, powered by efficient home appliances and electronics

Another iconic example of where standards are key to enabling sustainability, linking strongly to SDG12 as well, are energy labels, putting appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and ICT on an A-G scale according to their energy efficiency.

But who decides how to measure energy consumption? This is agreed within international and European standardisation bodies. For regulations to work well in practice, energy measurements must be carried out in close to real life conditions – TVs should be in the “on” mode, fridge doors should open now and then, ovens should cook actual food – and those conditions are set by standards.

In fact, new standards, such as the EN 4555X standard series, will even offer new ways to measure other indicators such as repairability, recyclability or durability, which will hopefully become part of product labels in Europe in the coming years.

 

Cool down our homes without warming up the planet – phasing down HFCs

Modern life is hard to imagine without fridges, freezers and air conditioners – but the refrigerant gases they use have a high – negative – impact on the environment.  Fortunately, the most commonly used refrigerants, HFC gases, are being phased out of the market. Instead, industry is gradually introducing environmentally friendly natural refrigerants such as propane.

New alternatives have competitive properties that make them even cheaper than the polluting HFCs. A perfect solution? Almost – propane is flammable.

Getting the safety of charge limits right for natural refrigerants will be essential in reducing the environmental impact of cooling equipment. Today, those limits are too strict; if raised, more powerful cooling appliances could run on propane and other natural refrigerants, increasing the uptake of climate-friendly cooling appliances.

Standards have an important role in this transition. The charge size for natural refrigerants is restricted by international safety standards ISO 5149, and EN 378 at European level.  Raising the charge limit in these standards can have a huge impact on the amount of HFCs used across the world, making it easier for companies to use less-polluting alternatives.

Such change in the standards would help realise the commitments of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal protocol, which aims to phase down HFC production worldwide by at least 80% – an agreement signed by 125 countries and the European Union. This goal is closely linked to UN’s SDG 13 – taking urgent action to combat climate change.

 

Developed in an inclusive way, environmentally sound standards can help shape the vision we share for a better future, and motivate social, economic and environmental progress – exactly what the SDGs were designed to do.

 

Bonus track: Find out more about how ECOS contributes to greener standards! 

ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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