On World Standards Day, Standards are key to achieve the SDGs

Energy, food insecurity, economic uncertainty: our world is tangled in many interlocking crises. The magnitude of these challenges calls on us – institutions, businesses and individuals – to identify solutions to build back better together.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, offers a way forward. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): they represent a call for action to address social imbalances, develop a sustainable economy, and fight climate change. Each goal of the SDGs – and their corresponding targets – supports a specific dimension of the effort needed and point to a global commitment that is now more relevant than ever.

CEN and CENELEC, as two of the official European Standardization Organizations (ESOs), are aware of the importance to leverage all available tools to achieve the SDGs. We believe that, in this effort, standards can play a key role.

In this spirit, this 14 October, like every year, CEN and CENELEC join the international standardization community in celebrating World Standards Day. This year’s edition, under the motto “Shared visions for a better world”, showcases the many ways in which international standards can contribute to sustainability.

As the recovery from the Covid pandemic shows, voluntary, consensus-based standards facilitate the translation of ambitions into concrete actions: they offer shared and clear rules of behaviour which foster the dissemination of best practices and the circulation of innovations.

As CEN and CENELEC, our commitment to making standardization a lever for sustainable development is twofold. First, in our role as ESOs, our purpose is to strengthen the Single Market. Thanks to the well-functioning public-private partnership recently renewed through the new European Standardization Strategy, CEN and CENELEC support the EU’s initiatives – including the ones linked to the SDGs: the EU Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, and the EU’s Digital Strategy,  to name only a few.

On the other hand, we understand that, as Europeans, we are part of a bigger global ecosystem. Therefore, our engagement is – primarily – global.  With our strong commitment towards our international partners (ISO and IEC), together with our national members we aim to ensure that Europe leads in the development and application of standardization solutions that respond to global challenges.

Our commitment to sustainable development is reflected in the key place it holds in our CEN and CENELEC Strategy 2030, where as part of its priorities we pledge for “International standardization to be a lever for sustainable development”.  This strategic document will guide our work until 2030. The objective is to ensure we are fit for the future and contribute to building a more sustainable and resilient Europe.

These are not just lofty ambitions. Through the work done by many experts across different Technical Committees (TCs), CEN and CENELEC develop European Standards that contribute to the three pillars of economic, environmental and societal sustainability. Some examples:

  • SDG 5 Gender equality. CEN and CENELEC signed in 2019 the UNECE declaration on Gender Responsive Standards, pledging to adopt a gender-aware approach to standardization, and established an ambitious implementation plan that is reviewed on an annual basis.
  • SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation. Two Technical Committees focus on ensuring a safe and steady water supply, TC 230 ‘Water Analysis’ and TC 164 ‘Water Supply’. In particular, CEN/TC 164 developed the EN 15975 series, that ensure the security of water supplies.
  • SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy. Many existing standards on energy management can be used as tools to help businesses gradually improve their performance and the energy efficiency of their products. For instance, in the field of Ecodesign and Energy Labelling, 25 CEN and CENELEC TCs produce European Standards on methods for measuring the energy performance of various energy-related products against the values set by the European legislation.
  • Another relevant area for the energy transition is transports. Standards help reduce the amount of energy used in the sector and shift to sustainable fuels. Existing standards cover means of transport (such as railways, with a total of more than 1200 standards on everything from rolling stock to electric circuits in train), tools to monitor emissions in vehicles, or Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in urban areas. Such standards are often used by manufacturers, public authorities and regulatory bodies to implement their ambitious sustainability plans.
  • SDG 12 Responsible consumption and production. The textile industry is an example of a particularly resource intensive sector. In response, various solutions for circular textile products are emerging, and textiles are a main topic in the EU Circular Economy Action Plan. CEN, through its TC 248 WG 39 ‘Circular Economy for textile products and the textile chain’, is working to develop common rules to avoid green washing and create a level playing field for all producers.
  • SDG 13 Climate action. CEN and CENELEC have adopted a horizontal approach to environmental protection, embedding it across all their actions. Some examples of this approach: the recently inaugurated CEN TC 467 ‘Climate Change’ develops standards to mitigate and adapt to climate change, while CENELEC’s 111x ‘Environment’ focuses on reducing the negative impact of electrical and electronic products on the natural environment.

The ones above are just some examples. Many more exist in other sectors, and their potential to support sustainability plans all across the board is huge.

To provide some evidence on this potential, last May CEN and CENELEC presented a new dedicated webpage: “Standards for the SDGs”. This online tool provides a comprehensive and clear mapping of the standards that contribute significantly to the SDGs in the European context.

At the moment, the website accounts for 4783 deliverables, with more expected to be added in the coming months. The objective of the project is to develop a strategic approach to SDGs leading to the inclusion of sustainability considerations in standardization.

The global challenges we all face are complex and require collective effort. SDGs show the way forward. On World Standards’ Day 2022, and together with many other organizations around Europe and the world, CEN and CENELEC are happy to renew their commitment to leveraging the power of European standards in building a sustainable future for everyone.