Can standards help nations make meaningful progress towards domestic ambitions?
A recent article in the FT claimed that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2015 are well-meaning but ‘doomed from the start.’
Why? Well, the SDGs, a set of 13 ambitious goals which cover everything from ending poverty to ensuring good health and wellbeing for everyone on the planet to creating resilient infrastructure, are said to be too broad.
In addition, some goals conflict with each other. Building a road network might generate economic development and improve infrastructure, but it could also lead to more pollution, road deaths, deforestation and so on.
Could standards provide an alternative approach?
Criticism of the SDGs may sound like a counsel for despair. If the SDGs are too lofty in their ambitions, what’s the alternative? The FT article argues that the SDGs ‘prioritise everything’ and therefore make progress unattainable, especially for lower income countries with limited resources.
The world of standards can point the way to a different approach. Standards are developed by experts who have experience in making change happen. They distil best practice and provide a common sense, consensus approach to a given area. In contrast to SDGs and policies that set out a direction of travel, they provide a roadmap of how to actually make real progress on the ground.
A National Standards Body (NSB) can assess a nation’s National Quality Infrastructure, develop a National Standardization Strategy and begin to develop a body of standards that work for the specific needs of that country. This provides an invaluable tool for sectors and organizations trying to improve and contribute to economic development.
How do standards help?
Standards provide guidance and support for anything from manufacturing to managing people. They help to set out criteria for testing and measurements that provide certainty and improve trust in a marketplace.
As CSN’s recent 'Roadmap for NSBs' publication points out, standards have been proven to provide benefits at a company, sector and national level. Firstly, standards help to streamline operations, improving efficiency and reducing waste. Secondly, they help organizations to innovate and scale up, taking the next step in expansion and growth. Finally, standards also provide help to enter new markets, whether this is development of new products or a shift into international markets.
Standards enable organizations to access the wisdom of experts and experienced professionals. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, standards users can accelerate their progress and demonstrate competence.
A comprehensive system:
When FT journalist David Pilling claimed SDGs are flawed, he was envisaging that making progress on many fronts at once would be too difficult. However, organizations around the world have found ways to balance priorities and make informed choices about their priorities. Standards systems help organizations work out challenges such as how to grow while reducing carbon emissions, or how to ensure supply chain partners meet quality requirements.
For each SDG, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has identified the standards that make the most significant contribution, they peovide clear pathways to help organisations to achieve SGGs. With over 22,000 ISO standards covering almost every subject, from products through to procedures, there are many industry specific ISO standards that correspond to each of the SDGs.
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