|The Importance of Outreach
I am writing this after returning from the ASTM International board of directors meeting in Beijing, China. During the long flight back I had some time to reflect on the Society, our accomplishments and the challenges ahead.
Through what our president, James Thomas, terms a “partnership of members and staff,” ASTM International has created a unique voluntary consensus process for standards development. It is a process that ensures balance, fairness and direct participation of key stakeholders in the creation of the most technically sound and market relevant standards in the world. Those of us who participate in ASTM recognize this fact. But prior to having the opportunity to serve on the ASTM board, I pretty much took the system for granted. I assumed everyone understood its importance, impact and value, and did not anticipate a need to explain or promote it to corporate and government leaders. I now know better.
Over the past several years the ASTM board has made a concerted effort to set objectives and direct resources toward greater corporate, government and global outreach.
As a key component of the initiative to promote greater corporate awareness of the value of ASTM International standards and the voluntary consensus process, ASTM staff has worked aggressively to build new and stronger ties in the corporate and industry environment. Senior staff has been actively engaging industry groups and executives in meetings and other forums across a variety of industries. A number of these presentations were highlighted in my column in the August 2006 issue of SN. And the effort continues.
I had the opportunity to view one of our corporate outreach programs firsthand this past October when Jim Thomas spoke at a meeting of the board of directors of the Portland Cement Association. He addressed over 60 executives from cement companies that have plants in the United States. Interestingly, we tend to think of the movement of construction materials solely in terms of local or perhaps national markets. Yet about 85 percent of U.S. cement capacity is owned by international companies. And cement is traded internationally the U.S. currently imports about 25 percent of its consumption. Thus ASTM International standards play a very significant role in international commerce for this industry. Certainly there are other industries with similar needs that we can address.
We have made excellent progress so far with our corporate outreach initiative. But we are also stretched thin as the primary engagements have been handled by staff. While they do an outstanding job, our challenge is to reach a larger audience in relevant industry sectors. I call on our membership to assist by identifying industry groups and opportunities for meetings and presentations, and participating in such events.
ASTM staff has also been making great strides in outreach to policymakers both in the United States and abroad. With the re-opening of our Washington, D.C., office in 2004, we have developed direct representation to support this initiative. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that certain government laws, regulations or policies around the world act as barriers to the wider global acceptance and use of ASTM standards. This makes little sense, given that we offer the best quality and most technically relevant international standards that meet all internationally agreed-upon principles for their development. It makes no sense to set a barrier to the use of the standards that industry judges to be of superior quality and relevance and not just U.S. industry.
Through direct communication with policymakers in the U.S. and around the world, ASTM staff are continuing efforts to ensure that ASTM standards are appropriately recognized. We achieved a major milestone this year when the U.S. trade representative to the World Trade Organization clarified that the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) agreement does not recognize or designate specific international standards-setting bodies. Rather, it recognizes international standards based on globally accepted development principles. ASTM International develops international standards under a process that meets all WTO TBT principles.
We are making progress, but there is more work to be done. Our challenge is to reach the point where ASTM standards can compete in the international marketplace based on merit, and not be excluded based on political expedience.
We are also having considerable success with our global outreach initiatives. A number of specific programs were outlined in my August column, so I will not repeat them here. But I will comment on the board meeting in China as it clearly reinforced the importance of our global programs and the challenges they bring.
In conjunction with the meeting, staff organized “ASTM International Day in Beijing,” which provided board members the opportunity to visit Chinese organizations in various industry sectors. We visited the construction, consumer, medical, environmental, nuclear, metrology, petroleum, aviation, and government sectors. It was a truly enlightening experience. There was intense interest in ASTM standards and great curiosity about our voluntary consensus process. While the questions in each sector were unique, it was clear that the leaders we met with understood the relevance and importance of standards to commerce and to the Chinese economy. There was interest in having Chinese technical experts directly participate in the ASTM International standards development process.
I also believe there was sincere appreciation of our interest, and our willingness to listen and learn. We were clear that ASTM International offers China, as well as other countries, a place to be heard, where interests can be expressed and needs met through standardization.
The meeting in China demonstrated first-hand to the board the importance of the global outreach initiative to the future of ASTM International. It also confirmed a major challenge the initiative will take time and resources. The good news is we have a clear direction, a strong commitment, and available resources.
Reflections on the Past Year
Serving as your chairman has been a real privilege. It has also been enlightening, rewarding and humbling, and has left me with many impressions, of which the following stand out.
The commitment and dedication of ASTM members are absolutely amazing. That so many knowledgeable and busy individuals are willing to contribute their time and talent to ASTM is a true validation of our mission and our process. It is what makes the Society work. Thank you for making ASTM International such a strong, dynamic organization and our standards the best in the world. Let me add a special thanks to ASTM’s board of directors. Your thoughtful, insightful and candid guidance has provided a sound, clear direction for the Society. And your support during my term is sincerely appreciated.
The respect and recognition that ASTM enjoys around the world is simply overwhelming. This is a tribute to the foresight of past leaders of the Society who viewed ASTM International as an organization open to global participation. It is also a tribute to the outstanding achievements of ASTM staff in formulating and implementing our global outreach initiative.
The capabilities, professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication of the ASTM staff are exceptional. They exhibit exemplary teamwork. They are creative, knowledgeable and responsive, with a clear sense of customer service. Without exception, at every Committee Week, members approached me with praise for the work of the ASTM staff those staff at the meetings and those providing support from headquarters. On a personal note, the ASTM staff were invaluable in helping me throughout the year, providing information, assisting with travel arrangements, meetings, and countless other tasks. They made it a wonderful and memorable experience.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your chairman. And all the best to our incoming chairman Gregory Saunders. //
Anthony E. Fiorato
2006 Chairman of the ASTM
International Board of Directors