Protecting the planet with standards, the theme of this year’s World Standards Day, highlights the important role of standards in helping to minimize the negative consequences that human activity can have on the planet.
As part of its standardization activities, the IEC cooperates with a number of environmental organizations, such as ECOS, the European Environmental Citizen’s Organisation for Standardisation, for their expertise in areas such as energy efficiency, household appliances and power management systems.
For World Standard’s Day, the IEC interviewed Justin Wilkes, the Executive Director of ECOS, to better understand the positive role that standardization can have on the environment.
How can standards help protect the environment?
Standards help make sure that products we use every day are safe and reliable. But they can also have an enormous influence on how products are made, and services are provided, with a potential to facilitate the transition to a greener and more circular economy.
Standards can make home appliances and devices more energy-efficient and repairable, create ways to reuse and recycle electronic waste, or set incentives to ensure we do not design environmental problems into our products. Standards manage the world around us, and it is vital that they address environmental concerns.
What are some areas where standards have made a positive impact on the environment?
For example, standards have shown to be helpful for safer and healthier alternatives to the toxic chemicals, and improved standards paved the way to cleaner products, for example IEC 60065, IEC 60950, and IEC 62368.
Another example is what we highlighted in our discussion paper Approaches to address circumvention of ecodesign and energy label requirements, where we mention that IEC TC 59 Internal Guide – The Principles of the Work of IEC TC 59 and its SCs, Edition 4 (ref 59/674/INF) was a leading tool to addressing the challenge of circumvention.
And what are some areas where more work is necessary?
It is crucial to ensure standards do not inherently hinder the uptake of environmentally friendly solutions. They need to allow for and foster the use of green alternatives, for instance in the case of natural refrigerants. If a standard puts limits on the amount of, say, natural refrigerants that a product can contain, in practice it promotes the use of gases which contribute to climate change.
This is where the IEC needs to act, as they are still part of the problem sometimes: they need to urgently set out a plan of action on how it will work with environmental stakeholders to ensure its standards are not market barriers to cleaner greener solutions to climate change.
It is vital to go beyond the usual “common denominator” approach in standards making and universally raise the ambition of standards, so that they are compatible with international environmental objectives such as the Paris Agreement and Montreal Protocol.
The concept of a circular economy is gaining traction. How can standards address it?
Standards have a great potential to foster circularity. They can provide common formats and designs that reduce the use of materials, as well as the unnecessary waste generation. In addition, standards can provide the definitions and terminology to be used when it comes to circularity strategies, such as modularity, adaptability, repairability, reusability, upgradeability… and lay out the criteria necessary to verify circularity claims in products and systems. The IEC’s Environmentally Conscious Design approach (IEC TC 111) could allow the IEC to be one of the circular economy trend setters.
Standards can also help make products more repairable but also prepare them for reuse and recycling. Imagine a modular appliance, where spare parts are readily available, and critical raw materials easy to extract after the product’s life is over. All of this can be achieved with standards.
How do ECOS and IEC benefit from working together?
ECOS consistently works to make sure the environment has a strong voice at the table where standards are developed, because we strongly believe that environmentally ambitious standards are essential tools to prevent a climate breakdown.
But of course, we cannot do this alone: we need leadership from within the standardisation community, particularly from the IEC. Only by working together can we make sure that future standards really protect our planet – and we still have quite a long way to go. IEC standards would be more robust and of higher quality if they were developed more inclusively, and ECOS is the only organisation globally that offers exclusively environmental expertise to the standardisation system.