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A Global Standards Strategy by Industry, for Industry

by Pat Picariello

Any industry sector’s approach to developing standards for the global market is a unique and evolving process. The geosynthetics industry has found a way to eliminate the duplication of standards that is inherent in harmonization while letting both ASTM International and ISO each develop quality standards.

Trying to Harmonize

Many industries typically participate in standards development activities that promulgate national, regional, and international standards. In some cases, the result is the development of two or more standards for the same product or process that are used by the marketplace. The global marketplace has resulted in industry attempts to harmonize these standards in hopes of making them technically equivalent.

Over the past several years, members of ASTM International Committee D35 on Geosynthetics and ISO/TC 221 on Geosynthetics have spent significant resources in this quest for harmonization. Members of both committees frequently joined the reciprocal organization to participate in developing a similar standard within the corresponding committee. Many individuals spent additional time and money developing, reviewing, and debating technical issues in two venues. Members of both committees attempted (sometimes in vain) to ensure that the requirements of the two standards were the same. The two committees even held joint meetings in order to facilitate the elusive goal of harmonization. Ultimately, this effort resulted in the development of ISO standards that duplicated existing ASTM standards and vice-versa.

Good Intentions, Confusing Results

Experts in the geosynthetics industry began to question the value of this type of harmonization effort. They realized their work was producing:

1. The creation of two similar, but not necessarily identical, standards, which in turn fosters:
• Confusion in the marketplace as to which standard to use
• Contradictions between the two standards
• Increased cost of testing when testing must be done to two standards
• Constant “catch up” to align the requirements of the two standards

2. The duplication of resources including:
• Time and travel of experts
• Development and publication costs of the supporting organizations.

Memorandum of Understanding

In light of these problems, representatives of the international geosynthetics community decided to attempt to eliminate this duplication and its consequences by agreeing to refrain from developing a standard when an existing standard already meets the needs of the international marketplace and to determine, when two duplicative standards exist, which one should remain in force.

This decision was ratified in June 2002 when ASTM International Committee D35 and ISO/TC 221 signed a memorandum of understanding to reduce the duplication of standards development activities in the geosynthetics industry. Both committees see the event as a significant first step toward a time when, as L. David Suits (chairman of ISO/TC 221) stated, “The geosynthetics industry will be governed by one globally accepted set of standards that meet the needs of all industry stakeholders.”

The geosynthetics community will now use the collective expertise and resources of both committees and organizations to achieve its standardization goals— the development, maintenance, and publication of market-relevant standards that serve the global marketplace.

ASTM International will continue to work to identify and further the goals of the industries we serve. We encourage you, as experts on technical committees and stakeholders in industry, to challenge the current framework of your existing standardization philosophy and develop new strategies to meet your objectives. The “best” approach for your industry may yet be uncovered. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

Pat Picariello is ASTM International director of Corporate Development.

On June 26, 2002, Sam Allen (left), vice-chairman of ASTM Committee D35 on Geosynthetics, and L. David Suits, chairman of ISO TC 221 on Geosynthetics, pledged to “refrain from developing standards where existing, market relevant standards fulfill the needs of the international community.”

Memorandum of Understanding Between ASTM International Committee D35 on Geosynthetics and ISO/TC 221 on Geosynthetics

“ASTM International Committee D35 on Geosynthetics and ISO/TC 221 on Geosynthetics recognize that there is a need to reduce the duplication of standards development activities in the global marketplace. This duplication creates marketplace confusion and dilutes the efforts of the volunteer and staff resources of both committees.

“Therefore, ASTM D35 and ISO/TC 221 hereby agree to refrain from developing standards where existing, market relevant standards fulfill the needs of the international community.

“ASTM D35 and ISO/TC 221 further agree to work closely with the volunteer leaders and staff of both committees to identify all duplicative standards and take proactive steps to create one globally accepted standard.”