Leading the World
Governments and regulators around the globe are grappling with a rapidly changing world. Keeping consumers safe and supporting business to take advantage of new opportunities means staying on top of the often-dizzying pace of developments in new technologies.
But in an interconnected world, effective international learning and cooperation can transform the ability of individual nations to make economic, social, and environmental progress. International regulatory cooperation (IRC) allows lawmakers to leverage global expertise in meeting these goals and is a major focus for the work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Last year, OECD published a landmark study highlighting the role of ASTM International in this landscape.
A Hidden Jewel
Craig Updyke, ASTM’s Director of Global Policy and International Trade, explains the background to the OECD’s report. “Every government wants their people and their economy to benefit from innovation. Standards are one of the first things that get done to bring new technologies to market, so it’s vital for approaches to standard-setting to keep pace.”
The OECD recognizes the crucial role played by international organizations in helping governments learn from each other and regulate more effectively, especially when it comes to rapidly developing technologies. Yet while the Geneva-based bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) command wide recognition, independent international standards organizations are much less well-known – and as a result, represent an underutilized resource.
“For a lot of governments, ASTM is a hidden jewel,” says Updyke. “It has a unique structure and approach that can be particularly useful in emerging tech. The process is very open, which means governments are welcome to sit at the same table to help write the standards.”
This bottom-up and inclusive process results in highly diverse committees in which industry, academics, and consumers are represented alongside regulators and technical experts. The consensus principle means every voice must be accounted for in decisions. That may not always be straightforward, but once agreement is reached, rulemakers can have a high degree of confidence in the standards. Consequently, the time taken to introduce public policy measures, such as regulations, can be dramatically reduced, supporting the market and benefiting consumers.
Global Alignment Fuels Progress
As an example, experts from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sit on ASTM’s aviation committees alongside experts from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other leading civil aviation authorities from around the world. Once ASTM aviation standards are written, agencies can simply reference them as a means of compliance in regulations addressing aviation safety, design, performance, and operations. So there’s no delay between publication of a standard and regulations being available to the global market.
When there is global alignment around a standard, it becomes a powerful lever for boosting business competitiveness, consumer access, and technology diffusion. The OECD report cites sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) as a case study in global collaboration. With the number of air passengers projected to double by 2050, sustainable alternatives to traditional jet fuel are expected to play a crucial role in helping the aviation industry meet carbon-reduction targets. It’s an inherently global industry, with airlines, routes, and supply chains all operating across boundaries. ASTM’s leadership in creating international consensus standards has helped to support market growth and reduce costs.
“ASTM is the international standards body for SAF,” says Updyke. “Because the committee [D02] has global participation and global alignment, it’s much faster for producers to get new blends approved and into the market. That’s helping to support the growth of SAFs because there’s only one set of testing standards producers have to meet in order to access multiple markets. Ultimately, that’s good for governments, industry, customers, and the environment.”
Adding Value in Emerging Tech
In newer industries, there are multiple hurdles to achieving market acceptance and growth. Gaps can open up between the capabilities of emerging technologies and the standards for safety and reliability that are needed to commercialize them. Wider adoption of innovations can also be hampered by a lack of workforce skills. But as evidenced in the OECD report, ASTM initiatives demonstrate the potential for international standards bodies to bridge these gaps.
“There are a lot of value-added activities that can make a big difference in getting innovative tech to market more quickly,” Updyke notes. “ASTM has shown how international standards organizations can be proactive in those areas and collaborate in a way that saves time and reduces duplication of effort.”
Through centers of excellence (CoE) in Additive Manufacturing (AM) and Exo Technologies (ET), ASTM has forged partnerships between the innovation and standards communities that are powering faster commercialization of these technologies.
“The centers of excellence are helping to align the innovation and standardization roadmaps,” says Updyke. “ASTM brings together R&D and standards experts to expedite standards development. That might involve commissioning research projects to address a standards gap, or working with researchers to understand whether results that are already out there can contribute to new standards.”
These partnerships are also promoting workforce development through education, training, and certification, and like the industries they champion, they are truly international in scope. The ASTM AM CoE has partners from Singapore, the U.K., and the U.S., and participation from government agencies including NASA and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.
Open to the World
Updyke hopes that by highlighting ASTM’s work, the OECD case study will be a springboard to even more opportunities for international collaboration. “If there’s one message I’d like to get across, it’s that we’re open. Anyone can get involved in an ASTM committee, connect with experts, and contribute. We’ll continue reaching out to governments, industries, other standards bodies, and consumer and research organizations around the world because the diversity of voices in our process is one of its many strengths.”
It’s a powerful model, which rulemakers from a growing number of countries are using to manage and promote new market areas, to global benefit.
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