Equal, fair… namely ISO

Lorenzo Benvenuti

In 1947 a group of delegates from 25 countries founded an international organization for standardization in Geneva and chose a Greek word to identify themselves, Ισως, that is ISO which means equal, fair. If on the one hand this word recalls the idea of seriality, on the other hand it echoes social challenges and international aggregation policies, targets maybe not explicit in those years of moral and material reconstruction, but certainly pursued with determination over time. In fact, the ideal purpose of standardization is to contribute to the improvement of efficiency and effectiveness of the socio-economic system through the development of instruments capable of supporting technological innovation, business competitiveness, consumer and environment protection. Today ISO has 164 member countries. It was founded from the ashes of other organizations that the war had first emptied of contents, then dismantled, and was created to grant the conditions for ensuring the functionality of goods, then over time also of services, in all countries and free international trade. In fact, since the beginning, the goal of ISO was to share methods and units of measurement at international level, (as was already done within individual countries) to define information, shapes and sizes to which to refer, as well as to procedures, indications and methods to grant that products and services were safe, reliable and of good quality (as far as technique and technology allow).

The rules just become the expression of a mild, participatory and respectful right of the manufacturer’s capabilities and market needs. Furthermore: their application integrates and does not clash with the legislation, in a logic of simplification, efficacy and efficiency, bringing benefits to society.

Today we take for granted dimensions, functionality, compatibility of objects, machines and devices which instead are the result of research, discussions, mediations, conducted by technicians, manufacturers and stakeholders. Everything or almost everything had been regulated, everything or almost everything has a standard to refer to, from the size of the sheets of paper (e.g. DIN 476 defines the A4 standard) to how to determine the volume of a hay loader wagon (DIN 11741). Sometimes the object resulting from the standardization activity is identified with the name of the organization, as in the case of ISOBUS which outlines a communication standard between agricultural and forestry machinery, connected tools, and computers defined by ISO 11783. As a matter of fact, for such complex systems, real families of standards are produced where each one deals with a specific theme.

Among the most famous ISO standards, mention should be made of ISO 9000 family (published for the first time in 1987) which define the requirements for the realization of a quality management system, and ISO 14000 family which establishes the requirements of an environmental management system (published for the first time in 1996). The rules are not eternal, but evolve with the evolution of technique and technology. The first ISO standard came out in 1951, it is ISO 1:1951 – Standard reference temperature for industrial length measurements. It is a recommendation which indicates the temperatures at which to perform the measurements. It may seem obvious, but if the material expands, to have a shared reference becomes necessary.

Today that standard has been updated several times, the last one in 2002 and therefore now it is identified with the initials ISO 1:2002. The standards are also not binding, as Marco Delmastro explains us so well, in the section devoted to standardization that starts with this issue. They were born as voluntary rules but can become mandatory in the relationship between the contracting parties of a contract if this, explicitly, refers to them.

Or, when they are referred to in the legislative measures: in this case a synergy is activated, which can go as far as making them mandatory (for example gardening machines saw in the 90s a flourishing of CEN standards, European regulations that were largely implemented by European countries). The most correct synergy, however, is co-regulation, in which legislator entrusts to standardization the definition of the elements sufficient to achieve the objectives of the law, but the choice of whether or not to apply the rules to which the law refers, remains completely voluntary.

The standardization activity is the study, development, sharing and publication of documents with voluntary application, such as standards, technical specifications, technical reports and reference practices, which define “how to do things well” in an “equal” and “fair” way.

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