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What Are Standards Worth?

ISO brochure provides answers in dollars and sense

Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 11:59

T he International Organization for Standardization (ISO) develops and publishes more than 19,200 voluntary international standards that bring benefits for businesses, governments, and society. But how do the standards contribute to the economic returns of countries and companies? What is the bottom line?

A new brochure provides answers by giving examples in hard figures of the benefits of implementing ISO’s and other voluntary, consensus-based standards for the global economy, national economies, and individual companies from different sectors and countries.

An inventory of studies established by ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on the economic and social benefits of standards, from which many of the following examples are taken, can be accessed here.

Macroeconomic studies on the contribution of standards to national economic growth show that:

• Standardization directly contributes to the growth in the French economy, for up to 0.81 percent, or almost 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

• Macroeconomic gains are a function of both more efficient production (i.e., labor productivity) and better decision making (capital productivity) within the New Zealand economy. Standards are a powerful economic lever, and over time, could lead to a 1.0-percent (NZD$2.4 billion) increase in New Zealand’s annual economywide GDP.

• In Canada, growth in the number of standards accounted for 17 percent of the labor productivity growth rate and about 9 percent of the growth rate in economic output (real GDP) between 1981 and 2004. If there had been no growth in standards during this period, real GDP would have been CDN$62 billion lower.

• During the 40 years to 2002, a 1-percent increase in the number of Australian standards is associated with a 0.17-percent increase in productivity across the economy. Additionally, standards can be considered, together with R&D expenditure, as contributing factors to the stock of knowledge: a 1-percent increase in this joint stock of knowledge leads to a 0.12-percent increase in economywide productivity.

• The economic benefits of standardization represented about 1 percent of GDP in Germany, where standards made a greater contribution to economic growth than patents or licenses. Export-oriented sectors of German industry used standards to open up new markets and facilitate technological change.

• In the United Kingdom, standards made an annual contribution of GBP£2.5 billion to the economy, and 13 percent of the growth in labor productivity was attributed to standards. Standards were identified as enablers of innovation and facilitators of technological change. The economic return on investment in standards made sound business sense at both macro- and micro-economic levels.

• Estimates by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the U.S. Department of Commerce both show that standards and related conformity assessments (i.e., checking that products and services measure up to standards) have an impact on 80 percent of the world’s trade in commodities.

• The World Trade Organization requires its members to use international standards of the type developed by ISO to avoid the technical barriers to trade that can be caused by differing national or regional standards.


The brochure “ISO standards—What’s the bottom line?” published in English and French, is available free of charge from the ISO Central Secretariat through the ISO Store or from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details). The brochure can be downloaded as a PDF file free of charge from the ISO website.


About The Author

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The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards. ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 162 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. ISO is a nongovernmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. ISO enables a consensus to be reached on solutions that meet both the requirements of business and the broader needs of society. View the ISO Standards list.


Does ISO 9001 give positif contribution for small organization


I used to be a junior consultant ISO and Internal Audit 9001 Spv in Indonesia distribution company. Until now I don`t understand how is that ISO manage interests of Certification Agency/Body, ISO Consultant, and organization that adopt ISO 9001. Because there many problem with implementing of ISO 9001 in small businees of development countries.