Cooperation in Standards with the Middle East

Representatives from standards organizations in the Gulf region came to ASTM International for an April workshop exploring sustainability in construction, related standards and related programs.

Participants in the April Workshop on Sustainability in Construction included representatives from the Standardization Organization of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GSO), members of the ASTM International board of directors, industry associations and ASTM staff.

Four sessions, two days and one goal of sharing information came together in the workshop on Sustainability in Construction, held April 24-25 at ASTM International headquarters. Representatives from the member bodies of the GSO — the Standardization Organization of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf — met with ASTM board members, staff members and representatives from other U.S.-domiciled standards development organizations and companies. The program provided perspectives on needs, possible solutions and implementation.

To start the program, James A. Thomas, ASTM International president, welcomed the attendees and noted his appreciation for the relationships developed over the years among GSO and its member states, and ASTM International. Thomas said, “At the most fundamental level, the ability to plan, incorporate, enforce and maintain sustainability relies on standards and codes.”

Nabil Molla, secretary general of the GSO, commented in his opening remarks that GSO is developing a building code for the Gulf region. “It will benefit from the vast wealth of knowledge in ASTM standards,” he said. Molla also spoke positively of the cooperation between GSO and ASTM as well as the important role that sustainability plays in preserving the environment.

In her remarks, Teresa Cendrowska, vice president of global cooperation, ASTM International, provided context for the workshop, noting the estimate that 70 percent of U.S. exports to the Middle East/North Africa region is destined for the Gulf region and that the Middle East/North Africa market, with a demand for imported goods and knowledge-based services, is expected to reach $1.3 trillion by 2015.1 Given this market, Cendrowska said, a discussion of codes and standards is an appropriate way to share engineering expertise.

The workshop presentations, summarized below, explored aspects of sustainability in the work of U.S.-domiciled standards organizations, the status of the unified GSO building code project, related activities in the GSO member nations, environmental product declarations and product category rules, and ASTM International standards development activities and information solutions. Sessions were followed by question and answer periods among speakers, participants and ASTM staff on such topics as the constitution of technical committees, the maintenance and language of building codes, environmental product declarations and product category rules, and ASTM’s compliance with WTO principles.

Session 1: U.S. Government Involvement in Standards and the GSO Gulf Building Code Project

Mary McKiel, Ph.D., standards executive, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Explaining how U.S. government agencies encourage sustainable construction, Mary McKiel, Ph.D., standards executive for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and 2013 chairman of the ASTM International board of directors, launched the first workshop session with an overview of the policy and legislative framework that ensures that U.S. government agencies work with standards development organizations for needed documents. “We’re not supposed to dominate [the standards process]; we sit at the table, roll up our sleeves and work,” McKiel said. That use of private-sector standards and participation in the process benefits government in terms of cost, personnel, time and resources. The government’s role in promoting sustainability, she said, is to influence markets, like the construction market, to move toward sustainable practices. “We need to implement green and sustainable thinking,” she said.

Karim Selaibeekh, head of global cooperation, GSO

Selaibeekh provided an “Overview and Timeline for the Gulf Building Code Project.” The Gulf building code, which is under development, will rely on the Saudi building code, the codes of the International Code Council and the large number of ASTM International standards referenced by ICC. Selaibeekh spoke of the construction boom in the Gulf — including highways, tunnels and flyways — which necessitates a regional code, and the building code forums that have been held to help determine the content of the Gulf code.

Session 2: Aspects of Sustainability

Hamid Naderi, senior vice president, product development, International Code Council

ICC takes a holistic approach to sustainability, Naderi said in his discussion of “Aspects of Sustainability in Codes of the ICC.” Of its 15 codes, the International Energy Conservation Code, the International Existing Building Code and the International Green Construction Code particularly emphasize environmental concerns. Naderi focused on the IgCC, which references numerous standards, and how it fosters moving green building into everyday construction practice. According to Naderi, the IgCC is helping to promote sustainability practices in all aspects of the built environment; it establishes minimum provisions but allows optional upgrades.

Ronald G. Burg, P.E., executive vice president, American Concrete Institute

“Concrete is the second most used commodity in the world, after water,” Burg said in talking about “Aspects of Sustainability in the Documents of the ACI.” “Sustainability is using resources as effectively as we can.” Sustainability is part of ACI’s strategic plan, and in that context the organization is exploring methods to quantify, rate and certify the sustainability of concrete structures. In looking at energy efficiency, concrete durability and repair, and recycled concrete, ACI is refocusing from the issue of the carbon footprint of cement to the life cycle eco-footprint of concrete structures.

Ann Weeks, vice president, global government affairs, UL

In her presentation, “Aspects of Sustainability in the Codes of UL,” Weeks noted that UL is looking at traditional safety issues, sustainability and trade to provide meaningful regional assistance, such as with the 2012 launch of UL’s Middle East Safety Forum, which will help address regional challenges and uncover how UL can provide assistance through its work in standards and compliance. She discussed how various aspects of sustainability could be covered in standards, and how life cycle assessment criteria can help balance and weigh environmental impacts.

Katharine Morgan, vice president, technical committee operations, ASTM International

ASTM International helps technical committees focus on technical issues while the ASTM staff manages the process, as Morgan highlighted in her talk, “Overview and Management of ASTM Technical Committees.” That involves “making sure that every stakeholder’s voice is heard,” said Morgan. She noted that stakeholders drive the program of work and that ASTM International provides the process and infrastructure for development and platforms for information delivery. Technical committees currently are working on standards in such areas as energy efficiency, new and renewable energy sources, building commissioning, carbon neutrality and rare earth minerals.

Session 3: Environmental Product Declarations and Product Certification

Timothy Brooke, vice president, certification, training and proficiency testing, ASTM International

In his “Overview of ASTM’s EPD Program,” Brooke explained the components of an environmental product declaration and how it provides users with a way to compare data about products and their impact on the environment. An integral part of creating comparable EPDs is having the same rules and guidelines, called product category rules, which are developed collaboratively. “We want to ensure that we create a product category rule used by the entire industry for that product,” said Brooke. EPDs, similar to nutrition labels for food, provide numerical values for such attributes as global warming potential, acidification and ozone depletion potential. ASTM International is a program operator for EPDs and manages the process, including the development of PCRs, conducting life cycle assessments, developing and verifying EPDs, and making PCRs and EPDs available.

Ralph Paroli, Ph.D., director, research and development, National Research Council of Canada

In his talk, “Environmental Product Declaration — A User’s Perspective,” Paroli used examples of existing structures in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to discuss the objectivity and flexibility of EPDs. He explained that they provide relevant and verified information about products and services, and help the user choose appropriate materials. The key is that EPDs are “credible, measured and accurate,” Paroli said.

Barry Descheneaux, manager, product support and development, Holcim

Descheneaux’s presentation focused on “Environmental Product Declarations — Thoughts from a Producer’s Perspective.” He discussed how sustainability in building has brought new parameters to building materials, how an EPD is generated based on a life cycle assessment and how this approach is being integrated into green building assessment systems. Producers need to know what such metrics require and how they apply to EPDs, LCAs and product category rules for building materials. Descheneaux said that standards help provide a base for harmonized approaches to material assessments. He predicted that EPD use will become more common and that EPDs should support decisions by specifiers, designers and owners based on standardized methods.

Saad Al-Kasabi, Ph.D., governor, Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Al-Kasabi gave the presentation, “SASO Overview and Conformity Assessment Activities,” which he began by sharing SASO’s vision of being a distinguished reference body for the standardization and quality fields nationally, regionally and internationally. SASO’s mission is to protect consumers as well as public health and safety and the environment through standards, quality and metrology systems. Al-Kasabi noted that SASO has developed or adopted close to 28,000 standards and technical regulations and has technical cooperation programs with some 40 standards development organizations worldwide. Among its conformity programs, an energy efficiency certification debuted in April 2010, which is significant because 70 percent of household consumption in the Gulf region is for air conditioning.

Session 4: GSO Organizations, the ASTM MOU Program and ASTM Services

Kimberly Simms, manager, global cooperation, ASTM International Nick Ecart, director of business development, ASTM International

In her overview of the “Memorandum of Understanding Program with the GSO and its Members,” Simms noted that ASTM International has memorandums of understanding with all of the GSO member states and with GSO itself. Two standards professionals, in 2007 and 2012, have participated in the ASTM International Standards Expert Program offered to MOU partners, and ASTM training programs on paint, tires, toys, and the marketing and sales of standards have been held in the Middle East. “We share the same goal of continuous improvement,” Simms said.

Representatives from GSO Member Countries Present

Representatives from the standards bodies of Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen spoke about their organizations and standards processes as well as any related work in certification and conformity assessment. Speaking were:

  • Eng. Fahhad S. Al-Mutairi, assistant undersecretary deputy director general for standards and industrial services affairs, Public Authority for Industry, State of Kuwait;
  • Saoud Nasser Mansoor Al-Khusaibi, director general, Directorate General for Standards and Metrology, Sultanate of Oman;
  • Ahmed Al-Left, director general of international cooperation for SASO; and
  • Waleed Abdulrahman Othman, general director, Yemen Standardization, Metrology and Quality Control Organization.
Nick Ecart, director of business development, ASTM International

In covering “ASTM Products and Services as Possible Solutions,” Ecart, who was instrumental in convening the workshop, talked about the diverse products that ASTM International delivers to enable access to standards and related technical information. He showed a new building code information management portal being developed for GSO member countries that enables quick viewing of referenced ASTM International and other standards. “The code tells you what to do and the standard tells you how to do it,” Ecart said. He mentioned the large academic communities in the region that would benefit from ASTM technical information (preparing students for the world of work) as well as ASTM’s consultative services and Proficiency Testing Programs that might be of particular use across the Middle East.

For More information

For details about ASTM International’s products and services offerings for the Middle East, contact Nick Ecart, director of business development, ASTM International (phone: +44-793-2103758).

Slide presentations from the Workshop on Sustainability in Construction are available online.

For additional information about the workshop and related work by ASTM International, contact Kimberly Simms, manager of global cooperation, ASTM International (phone: 610-832-9693).


1. Hamod, David, “Middle East and North Africa Markets Offer Unprecedented Opportunities for U.S. Engineering Firms,” Engineering Inc., Vol. 24, No. 2, March/April 2013, p. 37.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.