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Frequently Asked Questions

Revised 2019


What is a standard?

A standard is a document that applies collectively to codes, specifications, recommended practices, classifications, test methods, and guides, which have been prepared by a standards developing organization or group, and published in accordance with established procedures. (Source: SES-1, “Recommended Practice for Standards Designation and Organization”)


What is standardization?

Standardization refers to the process of establishing by common agreement the criteria, terms, principles, practices, materials, items, processes, equipment, parts, sub-assemblies, and assemblies appropriate to achieve the greatest practicable uniformity of products and practices, to ensure the minimum feasible variety of such items and practices, and to effect optimum interchangeability or interoperability of equipment, parts, and components.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What are voluntary standards?

Voluntary standards are standards established generally by private-sector bodies and that are available for use by any person or organization, private or government.  The term includes what are commonly referred to as “industry standards” as well as “consensus standards.”  A voluntary standard may become mandatory as a result of its use, reference, or adoption by a regulatory authority, or when invoked in contracts, purchase orders, or other commercial instruments.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is meant by consensus standards?

Consensus standards are standards developed through the cooperation of all parties who have an interest in participating in the development and/or use of the standards.  Consensus requires that all views and objections be considered, and that an effort be made toward their resolution.  Consensus implies more than the concept of a simple majority but not necessarily unanimity.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is a mandatory standard?

A mandatory standard is a standard that requires compliance because of a government statute or regulation, an organization internal policy, or contractual requirement.  Failure to comply with a mandatory standard usually carries a sanction, such as civil or criminal penalties, or loss of employment.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is a code?

A code is a collection of mandatory standards, which has been codified by a governmental authority and thus become part of the law for the jurisdiction represented by that authority such as the Uniform Building Code and National Electrical Code.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is a de facto standard?

A de facto standard is a standard that is widely accepted and used, but lacks formal approval by a recognized standards developing organization.  Common examples of de facto standards are driving customs (right versus left side of the road) and the QWERTY keyboard. 


What is a national standard?

From an “official” perspective, a national standard is adopted by a national standards body (e.g., American National Standards Institute, Standards Council of Canada, British Standards Institution) and made available to the public.  Practically speaking, however, a national standard is any standard that is widely used and recognized within a country.  In this context, even government standards, such as those issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), can be considered national standards. 


What is a regional standard? 

A standard developed or adopted and promulgated by a regional organization [e.g., European Committee for Standardization (CEN) or Pan American Standards Commission (COPANT)].  Regional standards are generally voluntary in nature, representing the joint action of the national standards bodies of a regional group of nations.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is an international standard? 

Defining what constitutes an international standard is a subject of much discussion and there is not general agreement.  There does seem to be some general agreement that for a standard to be considered international it must be used in multiple nations and its development process is open to representatives from all countries.  Some international standards are promulgated by multinational treaty organizations, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) or the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Some international standards are promulgated by multinational nontreaty organizations, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).  Some international standards are promulgated by organizations that originated as national industry associations, professional societies, or standards developers, but over time evolved into a global presence with multinational participation.  For example, ASTM International, SAE International, and NFPA International. 


Annex 4 of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade Report 2000 contains a good discussion of what constitutes an international standard.  In short, the WTO suggests that a standard may be considered international if the processes and procedures used to develop it are transparent, open, impartial, and provide meaningful opportunities for WTO members, as a minimum, to contribute to the development of the standard so that the standard does not favor any particular suppliers, countries, or regions.  Equally important, the standard must have a global relevance and use.     


What is ISO?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies from 143 countries.  ISO is a non-governmental organization that promotes the development of standardization and related activities to facilitate the international exchange of goods and services, and to develop cooperation in intellectual, scientific, technological, and economic activity.  The results of ISO technical work are published as international standards.  (Source: ISO web site)


What is IEC?

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies from 114 participating countries.  IEC is a non-governmental organization that develops and publishes international standards for all electrotechnologies, including electronics, magnetics and electromagnetics, electroacoustics, multimedia, telecommunications, and energy production and distribution, as well as associated disciplines such as terminology and symbols, electromagnetic compatibility, measurement and performance dependability, safety, and the environment.  (Source: IEC web site)


What is ITU?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) promotes efficient telecommunications services throughout the world through the adoption of intergovernmental treaties.  The ITU is comprised of 188 countries and 560 Sector Members (public and private operators, broadcasters, regional organizations, and scientific and industrial organizations).  The ITU defines and adopts telecommunications standards, coordinates the use of the radiofrequency spectrum, and provides support for telecommunications in the developing world.  ITU is one of the few intergovernmental organizations in the world founded on the principle of cooperation between the government and private sectors.  (Source: ITU web site)


Who develops standards?

Standards are developed from many different sources, including trade associations, professional societies, standards producers, consortia, companies, and government agencies.  Collectively, all of these different entities are referred to as Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs). 


Trade associations are composed of companies or organizations in the same business serving a specific industry.  While not all trade associations develop standards, many of them do to help their industry improve safety, increase production, reduce cost, enhance quality, and make products and processes more environmentally friendly.  Some examples of trade associations that develop standards are the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA).  In addition, some trade associations, such as the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), run a certification program for the products for which they develop standards.


Professional societies are composed of individuals who share common occupations or areas of interest, such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or automotive engineering.  Not all professional societies develop standards, but many do from a sense of professional obligation to provide standards that benefit society, the concerned technical discipline, and the organizations for which they work.  Some examples of professional societies that develop standards are the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and SAE International.


Standards producers are organizations created primarily for the purpose of developing standards.  Examples of such organizations include ASTM International, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and NFPA International.


Consortia also develop standards.  Consortia consist of groups of like-minded participants who place a priority on developing standards quickly enough to meet market demands or to harmonize or differentiate requirements within an industry.  Consortia groups differ from traditional standards developing organizations because openness is usually limited and due process may not exist or may be limited.  Consortia standards developers are often found in areas where the technology changes so rapidly there is not time to follow the traditional consensus standards development process.  Some examples of consortia standards developers are the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).


Most companies generate internal standards to describe their purchasing requirements, material characteristics, and production practices.  Examples of company standards are those developed by John Deere, General Motors, or Boeing.


The last category of standards covers those written by government agencies.  Some government agencies, such as the Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), develop standards to address unique government procurement and verification requirements.  Other government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC), develop regulatory standards intended to protect the environment or public safety.


Who uses standards?



Business, governments, and many other types of organizations and entities use standards for a variety of reasons.  Organizations use many different types of standards, depending upon their requirements, such as design, purchasing, manufacturing, testing, and exporting. 


Why are standards used?

Standards are used for many reasons, one of the most important being protection of health, safety, and the environment.  Standards for pesticides, processing, and storage ensure the safety of the food we eat.  Occupational health and safety standards protect workers, while water and air quality standards help to control pollution.


Another important use of standards is in manufacturing.  Standards can be applied at almost every stage of the design and manufacturing processes.  It is less expensive to design and build to accepted standards than to start from scratch.  The quality of the finished product is improved since adherence to standards reduces the production and use of defective parts and materials.


Standards may be used as a competitive advantage.  If all other factors are equal, the company that can prove compliance to the applicable standards will have a definite advantage over the company that does not meet the product requirements.


Manufacturers who use standards for materials that are acceptable to purchasers will improve the marketability of their products.  Standards are often used as the basis of contractual requirements, where compliance to cited standards facilitate acceptance by the contractor.


Standards can be used by companies to avoid sanctions and penalties.  An example of this is the use of national fire codes, which are mandated for use in the construction business.


In the late 1980s, U.S. companies responded to an ANSI survey by listing the following as the most important reasons for using standards:


  • Quality and reliability
  • Improve market acceptance
  • Economies in purchasing
  • Comply with customer requirements
  • Interchangeability of parts
  • Comply with Government requirements
  • Improve buyer-seller communication
  • System interoperability
  • Avoid drawing proliferation
  • Intra-company communications

What is laboratory accreditation?

Laboratory accreditation is the formal determination and recognition that a laboratory has the capability to carry out specification tests in accordance with prescribed procedures.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)

What is meant by harmonization?

Harmonization is the process whereby two or more nations (or standards bodies) agree on the content and application of a standard.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is meant by compliance?

Compliance is the adherence to rules, regulations, standards tests, or other requirements.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is meant by conformance?

Conformance is the state of having satisfied the requirements of some specific standard(s) and/or specification(s).  Conformance is used with respect to voluntary standards and specifications, whereas compliance is used with respect to mandatory standards and regulations.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is conformity assessment?

Conformity assessment is the procedure by which a product, process, service, or system becomes certified in conformity with specific standards or other recognized documents.   (Source: ANSI “Layman’s 10 Point Guide to Understanding Conformity Assessment”)


What is a certified product?

A certified product is a product that has been inspected, evaluated, tested, or otherwise determined to be in conformance or compliance with applicable or specified provisions of referenced standards, codes, or other requirements and certified by an authority which is recognized or has the legal power to grant such certification.  Certified products imply a guarantee or warranty of product conformance and that the product is under the test and surveillance procedures of a specified certification system.  (Source: ANSI’s “Standards Management:  A Handbook for Profit”)


What is ISO 9000?

ISO 9000 is a family of standards and guidelines related to quality management systems, terminology, and tools, such as auditing.  It states requirements for what an organization must do to manage processes influencing quality.  While ISO 9000 is primarily concerned with processes and not products, the way an organization manages its processes affects the final product and helps ensure that its products conform to the customer’s requirements.  (Source: ISO web site)


What is ISO 14000?

ISO 14000 is a family of standards and guidelines related to environmental management systems, terminology, and tools, such as auditing.  It states requirements for what an organization must do to minimize harmful effects on the environment caused by its activities.  While ISO 14000 is primarily concerned with  processes and not products, the way an organization manages its processes helps ensure a product will have the least harmful impact on the environment during production or disposal by reducing pollution and the depletion of natural resources.  (Source: ISO web site)


How do I locate standards?
Most standards developing organizations have search tools to locate and order standards that they develop.  The SES web site provides links to most of these organizations.  There are also several databases and websites that provide searches across standards developers at the national, regional, and international levels.  

  • NSSN: A National Resource for Global Standards of the American National Standards Institute at contains over 250,000 references to standards from over 600 standards developers worldwide.
  • Standards Store of the Standards Council of Canada at contains over a very large listing of standards from hundreds of standards developers worldwide.
  • The web site maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology provides useful links to many databases worldwide that can help locate standards.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Standardization Information System (ASSIST) database at helps locate military and federal specifications and standards that can be downloaded free of charge.

What is the United States Standards Strategy (USSS)?

The United States Standards Strategy provides a framework that can be used by all interested parties to further advance trade issues, and a vision for the future of the U.S. standards system in today’s globally competitive economy.  To access the Strategy click here.

What is the Canadian Standards Strategy

The purpose of the Canadian Standards Strategy (CSS) is to provide direction and leadership on how to best use standardization to advance the social and economic well-being of Canadians in a global economy. A key priority is balancing health, safety and environmental concerns with trade, innovation and economic competitiveness. To view the Canadian Standards Strategy 2009-2012 click here.