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Why are standards relevant to environmental protection?

Standards play an increasingly significant role in implementing European environmental laws and policies.


The European Union’s New Approach to technical harmonisation and standardisation of 1985 introduced a regulatory technique whereby so-called harmonised standards are developed alongside legal directives to stipulate the technical specifications of products and processes or to define the methodologies for calculating, monitoring and testing compliance with minimum environmental performance requirements set out in the directives. 


Examples of New Approach directives include the Framework Directive for Eco-design Requirements for Energy-related Products (ErPs), the Energy Performance of Buildings Directives (EPBD), the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, the Directive on the promotion of the use of bio-fuels or other renewable fuels for transport as well as the Directives on Air and on Water quality.


The development of European standards also plays an important role in supporting strategic European environmental and industrial policies such as the Flagship Initiative ‘Resource efficient Europe’, covering current initiatives on electric vehicles and the deployment of an alternative fuel infrastructure for transport and smart grids across Europe, as well as the recent Lead Market Initiative on bio-based products.


To this end, the European Commission establishes annual Work Programme identifying priorities for European standardisation alongside corresponding mandates for the relevant European standardisation bodies. 


In the past two decades, the percentage of European standards that are harmonised standards has increased from 3.5% to 20% in 2009 and the use of standards in the implementation of EU laws, regulations and public policies is expected to continue to rise.


Societal stakeholder representation in standards development

Standards are created by bringing together relevant stakeholders including the producers, sellers, buyers, users and regulators of a particular product, process or service. Increasingly, societal stakeholders representing the wider concerns of society are also part of this process.


Standards are developed at international, European and national level. International standards bodies, such as ISO, CEN and CENELEC, are membership organisations composed of national standards bodies (NSBs).


Where standards are developed at international or European level, national standards bodies set up mirror committees to feed into the development of individual work items. The final vote on the adoption of international or European standards rests with the national members, using an iterative process designed to build consensus.


In the UK, the British Standards Institution (BSI) is responsible for developing British standards and for representing British interests in the international and European standards bodies.


BSI is one of world’s most prolific standards bodies with more than 2,000 standards, many of them international ones, being drafted or revised every year.


Within UK economic policy, standards are also gaining in importance as an alternative to regulation and in supporting the enforcement of environmental and other legislation.


For this reason, active engagement in the development of standards at national level has both national and global impact.


Furthermore, a balanced representation of both industry and civil society stakeholders is needed to ensure that standards reflect not only the scientific and technical state of the art, but also take into consideration the concerns and priorities of wider society, such as the prevention of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and the protection of habitats.  


Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 on European Standardisation requires European standards bodies to facilitate access of societal stakeholders, including environmental interests, to the standards development process.


In practice, representation remains patchy for a number of reasons:


  • there is low awareness among the societal stakeholder community of the role of standards play in the implmentation of environmental legislation and sustainability more widely 

  • most sustainability organisations lack the sufficiently detailed knowledge of standardisation processes and the capacity to follow these on an ongoing basis

  • the standards development process can appear opaque and difficult to engage with


The role of the Sustainability Network for Standardisation

The Sustainability Network for Standardisation (SNS) was launched in April 2012 to take on the role of facilitating the systematic representation of sustainability interests in British and European standards development.


Funded by a three-year grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, this initial project formed part of the Waste Watch programme of the UK environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and built on a partnership with ECOS, the European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation, which explored ways of increasing the engagement of UK sustainability organisations in standards development.


Since its inception, the SNS has built effective working relationships with BSI, has established long-term work programme priorities and has recruited experts from across the UK sustainability sector.


The SNS is currently represented on technical committees concerned with standards on biodiversity, electric vehicles, energy management, energy performance of buildings, environmental management, nanotechnologies, waste electrical and electronic equipment and material efficiency and the circular economy.


The SNS has also been actively involved in a number of projects related to the role of standards in environmental protection and in improving industry practices. This included the Waste Standards Roadmap project commissioned by the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).


On behalf of ECOS, the SNS has been playing an active role in the development of an online portal designed to facilitate societal stakeholders’ access to the standardisation processes of the European standardisation institutions CEN-CENELEC.


Reflecting the highly specialised nature of its activities, in August 2014, the SNS was re-launched in the new format of a standalone organisation. The strategic aims of the independent organisation are to become a representative national members’ network and to take an active role in influencing the policy areas covered by standardisation.


How we work

The development of standards requires relevant and often highly detailed scientific and technical expertise to ensure the standards agreed maximise the protection of both people and the planet. The principal task of the SNS is therefore to identify suitable experts and to coordinate and support their participation in the standards drafting and review process.


Through ongoing outreach to the UK sustainability sector, the SNS also seeks to enhance the capacity of social and environmental sustainability organisations to contribute to the standards development process. The SNS actively supports ongoing initiatives by BSI and the European Standards Institutes to facilitate societal stakeholders’ access to standards development by sharing its views and experiences.


Standards development is a highly specialised activity that requires ongoing engagement. The SNS, alongside partner organisations such as ECOS, continuously monitors policy and legislative developments, both at national and international levels, to identify areas of standardisation where environmental expertise is critical - either for implementing legislation or improving the environmental practice of business and industry.


The work programme is determined by scoring potential work areas against a set of criteria such as relevance to policy and legislation; the existence, or otherwise, of regulatory frameworks and the likely impact of the standards developed.


How we are funded

The SNS is funded by a core grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.


In addition, funding from the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills supports a collaboration between BSI and the SNS. The project covers a research and pilot outreach programme to further the sustainability sector’s awareness of the importance of standards in environmental protection and to increase the representation of sustainability stakeholders in BSI’s technical committees.  



Sustainability Network for Standardisation

Top Floor, Back Building

148–150 Curtain Road

London, EC2A 3AR


Tel: 07578 552 355

how we are funded
how we work
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