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What is a standard?

A standard is a document, established by consensus that 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 film to fit our cameras can be purchased anywhere in the world, that a light bulb fits a socket, 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)

How are standards created?

Standards are developed by technical experts that work together to meet a common marketplace need. The term “voluntary consensus standard” describes a document developed through a process where all views and objections are considered and where affected parties (including government, consumers, and business) have reached consensus on its contents.

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.

Learn how to get involved in the American National Standards (ANS) process, and participate in decisions that affect your bottom line.

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.

What is the “Standards Boost Business” (SBB) campaign?

SBB is a public awareness campaign intended to inform and educate C-suite (e.g., CEO, CFO, COO, etc.) executives, senior public policy officials, and upper/middle managers about the ways that standards and conformity assessment activities boost business performance and innovation, lower costs, and help U.S. industry to be more competitive in the global marketplace. Its goal is to increase awareness and understanding amongst businesses, organizations, government, young or emerging professionals, and students about the U.S. voluntary standardization system, and to promote a culture that values the infinite contributions standardization and standards professionals make to society.

What issue is the campaign aiming to address?

An educational and outreach effort, the campaign’s primary goal is to serve as a “call to action” for corporate America to devote resources – time, money, and manpower – to the U.S. standardization system and its activities. As such, SBB aims to address three main issues:

  • Lack of knowledge by C-suite (e.g., CEO, CFO, COO, etc.) executives, senior public policy officials, and upper/middle managers about standardization, its significant impact on the U.S. economy, and how to get involved.
  • Decreased participation in standardization activities by some industries, organizations, and companies. In recent years, some sectors have decreased their participation in standards development and conformity assessment activities. Whether this decrease comes from a tightening of the belt or shifting priorities, the concern remains the same: participation by certain industry sectors is down, and the U.S. standardization community should do whatever it can to increase engagement.
  • Education and training opportunities for college and young or emerging professionals about standards and conformity assessment. Each spring hundreds of thousands of college graduates seek to enter the workforce, but very few of them have even the most basic awareness of standards and conformance. Additionally, engineers and standards professionals are retiring at a rapid pace. We need to make sure that we are cultivating the next generation of standards professionals in order to avoid a knowledge vacuum.

How will the campaign generate awareness?

SBB key messages will be incorporated into brochures, flyers, presentations and speeches, testimony, publications, press releases, websites and social media applications, advertising, contributed articles or letters to the editor, and much more. More importantly, the messages and deliverables may be used freely by any stakeholder within the standards community to help explain the strategic value of the voluntary standards system to U.S. businesses.

Who is behind this effort?

The SBB campaign is administered by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), coordinator of our nation’s voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment system. For more information, visit

Why now?

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. However, there remains a marked lack of standards and conformance-related knowledge by decision makers in business and industry. This has caused organizations, companies, and government agencies to avoid participation, down-size, or eliminate standards-related sections and programs. More and more, corporate standards professionals are not being replaced when they retire, and new, younger professionals are not being developed for corporate standards roles.

With recent efforts to increase dialogue about the current U.S. voluntary standardization system, now is the time for the standards community to showcase the strategic value of the system to U.S. businesses, organizations, and government, and help corporate decision makers and senior public policy officials understand the critical importance of their participation.

How can I participate?

Companies, organizations, government agencies, consumers, young or emerging professionals, and students can read the materials provided throughout the SBB website, share the link with your staff and colleagues, and utilize the free tools and resources. Show your support today, and email us if you’d like to be featured in our Case Studies section.

Make a resource commitment to the U.S. standardization system and join the SBB Partnership. Send us a message to learn more about Partnership opportunities.

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.