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Teaching Standards Development
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 August 2007
Standards in Education
DRU MEADOWS is a principal with theGreenTeam, Inc., Tulsa, Okla., a strategic environmental consulting firm specializing in building industry issues and sustainable development.

Teaching Standards Development

Inspiring the Next Generation

Standards development through the ASTM International consensus process is a voluntary activity. By definition, then, it necessarily requires volunteers. That can be a challenge. People donate their time, money and energy for a variety of reasons, but most often because they sense a connection with the cause they serve. There is a direct correlation between a person’s sense of connection to a cause and his/her willingness to contribute.

Inspiring volunteers to donate their time is critical to the development of good standards. One way to inspire is to teach the next generation of stakeholders about the value of standardization and how fulfilling it can be to participate in standards development.

A Course for Inspiration

Standards are not warm and fuzzy. There are no compelling pictures of malnourished children, devastated homes or threatened pandas. Standards development takes time, during which it is unlikely that volunteers will receive monthly progress letters detailing the positive influence that their contributions have made. There is seldom an immediate sense of accomplishment. And, even after a new standard is completed, it may take quite some time before the effects are evident in the market.

However, standards themselves are perhaps the single most powerful building block of any industry. Society depends upon standards to function. Standards affect all areas of life from the minute details of tasks such as cooking and shopping to broad market interactions such as global investments and computer interoperability. It is difficult to imagine a sophisticated society without standards.

Working through the Oklahoma State University – Environmental Institute (OSU-EI), theGreenTeam, Inc., developed a graduate course to inspire and teach the next generation about standards. The semester-long multidisciplinary course, Sustainability and International Standards, reviews the role of standards in the global economy and their potential impact on sustainable development.

This is a survey course intended for graduate students. Although the course is primarily intended for students in the fields of environmental management, international studies and business, it is available to any graduate student, including students of law, political science, agriculture, health and other industry-sector specific programs. It is intended to provide students with a broad understanding of the cross-functional and interdisciplinary issues associated with standardization and global governance.

Course Structure

The course begins by introducing standards and discussing the vital role they play in the economy. Each class period includes a dialogue relating standards to current events (there is always something in the newspapers and magazines applicable to standards, sustainability and the market).

In lieu of tests, the course challenges each student to “draft” an ASTM International standard. The student researches the topic to identify what standards exist and what entities may have an interest in developing related standards. Subsequently, the students focus their topics and, following ASTM format and protocols, draft a standard. The conclusion of the course is the final “committee week,” in which students present their standards to the class. During the presentation, the class functions as a standards committee; their role is to negate or affirm. They are expected to flush out as many different perspectives on the topic as possible. This allows them to get a feel for the standards development process as well as an appreciation for the different perspectives of various stakeholders.

“Standards” that the students have developed relate to sustainability and to their individual areas of interest. They include:

• Standard Classification for Energy Production Relative to Sustainable Development;
• Standard Classification for Degradation, Mobility and Bioaccumulation of Organic Chemicals in the Terrestrial Environment;
• Standard Classification for Economic Indicators;
• Standard Classification for Genetically Modified Organisms Used in Food Products;
• Standard Classification of Traditional Medicines;
• Standard Guide for Social Criteria Fundamental to Socially Responsible Investing;
• Standard Practice for Assessment of Residential Wastewater;
• Standard Practice for Managing Corporate Social Responsibility;
• Standard Practice for Precautionary Due Diligence in Product Development;
• Standard Practice for Principles and Data for Estimating Carbon Footprint using Input-Output Methodology;
• Standard Practice/Guide for the Utilization of Wetlands for Stormwater Management;
• Standard Specification for Attributes and Representation of Indigenous Cultures;
• Standard Specification for Standard Practice for Generic Labeling (Marking) of Recycled Products; and
• Standard Terminology for Intellectual Property.

Student Feedback

Students who took the course the first time it was offered began the semester with a little skepticism. To them, a standards course sounded pretty arcane. Many anticipated another dry, rote memory exercise on rules and regulations. Comments at the conclusion of the course demonstrated their surprised enthusiasm. (As their grades were already submitted, the veracity of the compliments was all the stronger.) Furthermore, they recommended the course to other students. So the class has had a repeat offering by popular demand of the graduate students themselves.

Additionally, one of the more talented doctoral candidates, Shirley Vincent, was inspired to seek funding through the university’s grant program to participate in ASTM International. With some behind-the-scenes assistance from theGreenTeam, Vincent advanced to a task group leadership role in ASTM, culminating in the successful publication of E 2348, Guide for Framework for a Consensus-Based Environmental Decision-Making Process.

The course is more about quality than quantity. Class size is limited since each student selects a different topic and individualized mentoring is necessary to appropriately explore the varied topics. And because theGreenTeam principals teach in a guest-lecturer capacity (balancing regular workload and other commitments with what they give to the OSU–EI), the course is not offered every semester. Nevertheless, the impact has been noticeable. Students discover a respect for and interest in standards. They have communicated this discovery to their peers – who then want to learn about standards themselves. It is an encouraging cycle. Hopefully, as these students graduate, they will continue to pursue this interest — participating in standards development and inspiring yet another generation to do the same.

For additional information on the course Sustainability and International Standards or the work of ASTM Subcommittee E06.71 on Sustainability, please contact Dru Meadows or Steven Mawn. //