ASTM in Sweden
Board of Directors Meets in Stockholm
Stockholm was the location of the 2008 spring meeting of the ASTM International board of directors held the week of April 21. The selection of the Swedish capital as the host city for the ASTM leadership team came at the invitation of Lars Flink, CEO of the Swedish Standards Institute, during his tenure as a member of the ASTM board. The national standards body of Sweden, SIS is headquartered in Stockholm.
The Scandinavian city represented a return to Europe by the ASTM Internationasl board, with its first European destination having been Berlin in 2003. Previous meetings outside of the United States were held in Beijing, China; Mexico City, Mexico, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
While in Stockholm, the ASTM board welcomed two distinguished guests who made presentations to the full board: Jacob Holmblad, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) vice-president (technical management) and managing director of Danish Standards; and Gaston Michaud, European Committee for Standardization (CEN) secretary-general. Both talks were followed by an engaging series of questions and answers.
In his presentation, “Global Trends and the Role of Standards,” Holmblad examined current and future issues that are key to today’s standards development landscape as well as to the overall global population. His review of key challenges for all standards development organizations rang a familiar note with his audience. He shared ISO’s strategic plan and its collaboration with ASTM International. “I’ve come here because ASTM International is very important, and will be in the future,” said the ISO executive.
Michaud gave an overview of the European standards system and how it relates to the global standards community. CEN now has 30 European Union/European Free Trade Association countries among its national members. Michaud discussed harmonization, the Vienna Agreement, CEN/ISO connections, and the CEN/ASTM relationship. Regarding ASTM, Michaud noted, “ASTM is known for test methods that are validated.”
Industry Outreach Visits
One afternoon of the visit in Stockholm was dedicated to outreach, where members of the ASTM board and senior staff visited Swedish government agencies and businesses for face-to-face meetings with top executives in areas where ASTM standards are globally influential.
The lineup included visits to Swedish government trade offices, trade associations representing the steel and cement industries, and major corporations headquartered in the local area such as SSAB Steel and Volvo Technology.
Collaborative efforts were further enabled by the fact that the SIS board was meeting in town the same week in April. This provided the opportunity for ASTM International to be part of the SIS seminar—an annual feature of the SIS board meeting. This year’s event, “USA and Sweden – Similarities, Challenges and Opportunities,” was arranged by SIS and ASTM and attracted approximately 160 attendees to the auditorium at Stockholm’s Rival Hotel on April 23 (Click here for a photoessay of the seminar).
Keeping with the theme for the event, Flink opened by explaining that the United States is one of Sweden’s top five trading partners and that standards are very important tools in facilitating this trade. “The benefits of standards — and their role in safety, the environment, cost efficiencies and overall welfare to society — is something we all share.”
At the podium, ASTM President James Thomas began by acknowledging the warm welcome that the ASTM delegation was receiving in Sweden. In his presentation, “Keeping Pace with the Changing World,” Thomas discussed standardization in the electronic age, keeping pace with globalization and the quality and relevance of ASTM standards.
Swedish Government Report
Leading the formal seminar presentation program was Ewa Björling, the Swedish minister of trade. In Sweden, the Foreign Trade Office is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Björling’s presence was particularly timely because April 23 was the same day that the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a report on standardization to the Parliament of Sweden. The report, the first of its kind, describes the importance of standardization in today’s globalizing world. “This communication to parliament is a first step,” noted Björling.
In her presentation, the Swedish trade minister went on to explain the importance of standardization. “The instrument of standardization has been an essential component of the growth, competitiveness and technological development of the Swedish economy. Manufacturing, marketing, employment and the trade of goods all benefit from the standardization process. A goal of the communication to parliament is to raise the awareness of standardization and the public’s engagement in it.”
ASTM at the Podium
How the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses voluntary standards and how standards help meet the sustainability goals of the agency was covered in a presentation by ASTM board member Mary McKiel, EPA standards executive. McKiel referred to partnership programs that rely heavily on voluntary consensus standards such as the Environmentally Preferable Products Program, Energy Star, and EPEAT, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. “The EPA uses about 2,000 ASTM standards in a variety of EPA regulations.”
Catherine (Kitty) Pilarz, director of Mattel worldwide product safety for Fisher-Price and ASTM board member, demonstrated how Mattel, the world’s biggest toy company, uses standards and benefits from them. “The way to truly influence product safety is to participate in the standards development process. We know that as a company, and we encourage other companies to participate as well.” Pilarz chairs ASTM Committee F15 on Consumer Products.
European Industry Perspectives
The audience heard the European viewpoint from Lennart Nyström, director of quality assurance and regulatory affairs, MAQUET-GETINGE Medical Systems. GETINGE, a global provider of equipment and systems within the health care and pharmaceutical industries, actively participates in standards development. Nyström pointed out that the time and resources required for standards development are outweighed by the benefits of participation such as influence and expert knowledge.
In his talk, “Similarities and Differences between Companies in Europe and the U.S.,” Johan Ekesiöö, CEO, IBM Sweden, gave examples of how businesses flourish when adopting world standards. “Common standards lead to mutual success,” said Ekesiöö, who is a proponent of open standards in his field.
Ending the seminar on a lighter note, American strategy consultant Gary Baker, having lived in Sweden for many years, shared his perception of the differences and similarities in Swedish and American business cultures.
All seminar presentations can be heard in English on the SIS Web site.
Stockholm proved to be a perfect location for the ASTM board meetings — visiting with old colleagues and meeting new ones against a backdrop of lovely architecture and perfect spring weather. The warm reception to the ASTM delegation and the feeling of welcome from the SIS board and staff proved that — in more ways than one — time and again standards serve as a common language.
Barbara Schindler is director of ASTM International Corporate Communications and former editor in chief of SN.