ASTM International VP Global Cooperation Teresa Cendrowska discusses why we need to advocate for standards around new technology, given the plethora of issues faced by built environments.
By Teresa J. Cendrowska
Many associate innovation with digital technology. However, the changes brought about by implementing new ideas, materials and methods also impact conventional goods, practices, and outputs. Because innovation can transform or disrupt the delivery of goods and services, both the public and private sectors are inherently interested in its impact. Consider two examples that can deliver safety, resilience, and sustainability but also have implications for policymakers and citizens alike.
If a government ministry leverages drones to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 through disinfection, distance monitoring or delivery of emergency supplies, what must be considered to ensure the reliability of drone operations, while maintaining the safety of the community? If expedited delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a measure taken to support citizen or employee safety, can PPE produced with new materials or processes be considered safe and effective? While innovation advances safety and resilience, the delivered product or service must also respond to the needs and expectations of communities and governments.
There is a balance to be struck between using innovation and delivering it reliably, consistently and without harm to the stakeholders.
Innovation transfers technology and advances objectives such as safety and resilience. It has offered new solutions, especially in Asia and the Pacific, responding to the needs and aspirations of communities and governments.
An example is the transition from personal and commercial applications of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) to a broad and new safety function during the COVID pandemic. This innovative technology was repurposed, and its role expedited. To ensure that citizens were maintaining social distancing, UAS were used in China to broadcast public reminders about distancing. In Singapore, the drone Spot, ensured that people observed safe distancing in parks and other public spaces. These innovative UAS applications were likely not launched publicly without regulators, officials and policymakers having a degree of confidence in safe performance.
Another example is the accelerated production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) in light of the pandemic. As demand rose and supplies diminished, manufacturers repurposed production lines to meet the urgent need. Alternative methods of production were implemented. Guidance was needed to deliver effective PPE appropriate to the intended end-use.
Both examples – drone usage and a new approach to PPE manufacturing – rely on innovation. To be effective and universal in an economy, innovation requires supportive policies. Governments and citizens have protocols for making decisions on such issues. But innovations also contain complex, technical components. To yield positive outcomes and uniform benefits, stakeholders need tools to understand and manage the inherent technology.
Standards are the tool that facilitates such transitions. Time-tested, consistent, and regularly updated, standards from development organizations such as ASTM International provide the needed insights. Standards rely on science, are practical in approach, support the transfer of technology, and are frequently called out in regulation nationally and across borders. They provide explanations and offer assurance.
Standards change with the development of technology and reflect the agreed-upon best practices defined by technical experts. The experts’ research, knowledge, and technical exchanges, packaged in standards, allow those relying on the documents to expediently incorporate innovation and move their respective economies forward with confidence. Bill Gates says it succinctly –
“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time,” says Gates.
Standards harness technological developments and enable their transfer daily to deliver advanced healthcare and sanitation, improve infrastructure, sustain growth, and protect and rehabilitate the environment. These gains translate into improved economic opportunity, resilience and safety.
Innovation, when harnessed properly, supports prosperity. As nations embrace innovation, it is critical that the impact of efficiency and capacity contributed by standards are not overlooked. By delivering uniform benefits and consistent advantages for economies and their citizens, standards reduce the timeline and costs of economic development.
To date, the pandemic continues in the world. Even if standards and regulation are not the direct answers to eradicating the pandemic completely, both have a role in mitigating the impact.
Ed. Featured image by Photographer Erik Mclean.