The U.N. Infrastructure/Innovation Goal and ASTM's MOU Program

An Interview with Teresa Cendrowska, Vice President of Global Cooperation at ASTM International


Q. How does the ASTM International Memorandum of Understanding program support United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #9 on Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure?

A. This goal points to investment in infrastructure and innovation as a fundamental component of successful economic growth and development. It highlights technological progress as an enduring solution to economic and environmental challenges. Because ASTM International’s technical committees address 90 different industry sectors, they formulate standards that address basic infrastructure needs and cutting-edge innovation. This makes ASTM standards a great fit for implementing the goal. 

Through its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) program, ASTM International partners with more than 110 national and regional standards bodies and provides the full collection of its diverse standards as a ready resource for partner economies. The standards help the economies address regulatory, procurement, and economic objectives.

Standards are fundamental to the development and delivery of industry, infrastructure, and innovation. As an example, in concert with development assistance, national standards bodies can work with their respective government ministries and private sector contractors to specify, procure, and implement road infrastructure or resilient construction with ASTM standards. Those economies that are ready to implement an innovative approach to manufacturing, for example, through additive manufacturing processes, can do so with ASTM standards available through the MOU program.

Q. In which industries have standards had the greatest impact in terms of achieving this goal? What challenges and impacts have you seen?

A. The 8,400+ global citations of ASTM standards globally reported through our MOU program include standards from a wide array of our technical committees. A standard that allows re-use of aggregate or construction site water is as significant to users seeking environmentally sustainable, economical options for constructing infrastructure as is a standard that enables an economy to test locally made textiles satisfactorily and gain global market access for a community of small and medium enterprises. The determination of impact is, so to speak, “in the eyes of the beholder.”

We know from experience that effectively formulating and deploying standards is complex. Development and maintenance of relevant, high quality standards requires the gathering of interested stakeholders. These stakeholders contribute and share current technical content and are committed to maintaining the information by responsively adjusting that content to reflect market needs. If a standards body is unable to populate a technical committee or subcommittee with a comprehensive group of experts, the resulting standard may not effectively meet needs. 

Some of the regular challenges I’ve observed in transitioning economies pertain to technical expertise, technical content development, and general awareness and appreciation of standards by the intended beneficiaries. Regarding the first two challenges, developing economies may have limited financial resources for developing, managing, and expanding their standards portfolios. Additionally, it can be difficult to gather a representative community of interested and diverse stakeholders to develop needed standards. In this regard, the ASTM MOU program provides an excellent resource. With access to a full collection of standards as well as their development, economies can use, adopt, or reference approved ASTM standards and influence drafts. Using or providing feedback on this available content expedites the preliminary stages of development for transitioning economies by placing the technical committee further along in content creation. Accelerated development also frees resources assigned to standards development to address other activities such as marketing, implementation, training, monitoring, and enforcement.

Q. How have ASTM standards helped ASTM’s MOU partners develop?

A. In general, the ability of national standards body partners to meet the standards needs of their respective public and private sector stakeholders has improved. The increased number of citations reported to ASTM International through the partners’ annual reports has grown from just over 3,000 to over 8,400 in 10 years. The number increases year after year. You might expect the increase because more MOU partners sign on each year. However, what we also see is that existing MOU partners report increases in their respective citations of ASTM standards, signaling the utility of this technical content for their respective national standards portfolios.

As ASTM International’s mission statement indicates, “Committed to serving global societal needs, ASTM International positively impacts public health and safety, consumer confidence, and overall quality of life. We integrate consensus standards, developed with our international membership of volunteer technical experts, and innovative services to improve lives — Helping our world work better.”

I recently scanned comments from annual reports submitted by the more than 100 partners in the MOU program. Here is a brief sampling of partner feedback on how they are using ASTM standards in support of UN SDG #9.

  • Guyana: Supporting infrastructure and a “green state” development strategy
  • Mauritius: Referencing ASTM standards in regulatory text for bunker fuels
  • Myanmar: Formulating national standards for construction quality
  • Pakistan: Adopting roofing felt standards to improve waterproofing
  • Philippines: Adopting an array of construction-related standards 

This feedback represents successes for these countries and indicates the usefulness of ASTM International standards.

Q. Would you describe how standards have promoted industrialization and employment? 

The 2018 UNIDO Industrial Development Report, “Demand for Manufacturing: Driving Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development,” states, “The emergence and diversification of mass markets for manufactured products incentivizes a process of continuous innovation. They also call forth the provision of infrastructure, from improved transport links to optical fibers, to better serve these mass markets. New industrial sectors emerge and expand, generating new jobs and profit opportunities. If it is made inclusive and sustainable, the circle is an important catalyst for achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 9)…”

The best way to underscore the role of standards in support of industrialization is through real and practical examples. Standardization News articles highlight standards’ beneficial contributions to industrialization, including reduced time to market, lowered costs, enhanced competitiveness, facilitated market access, assisted technology transfer, insights on industry trends, efficient product development, and achievement of business goals. Regardless of the size of the company or economy, standards are essential to successful, sustainable industrialization.

ASTM is working to increase the awareness of the link between its technical content, primarily standards, and the U.N. SDGs. The initiative began with our participation in and support of the Standards for the Sustainable Development Goals Workshop held in Geneva, Switzerland, in September last year. Our part continues through a collaborative staff initiative to identify and promote the role of standards in meeting the U.N.’s Vision 2030. We believe this will be helpful to the wide range of ASTM stakeholders, and a larger community, in addressing and meeting the vision.

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