The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs aim to address social imbalances, develop sustainable economies and slow the rate of climate change.
Achieving these ambitious goals will require a collaborative effort from governments, industries, businesses and consumers alike. Accredited conformity assessment against internationally recognised standards is a useful tool that can help organisations better allocate their resources and improve their sustainability performance. It offers a wide range of solutions that can be utilised by government, industry and other stakeholders that enable them to implement, measure and monitor many of the objectives and targets contained in the UN’s 17 SDGs.
The role of standards and accreditation
Standards and accreditation are key components of the UK’s national quality infrastructure, along with conformity assessment, measurement, and market surveillance. Quality infrastructure enables economies to develop efficiently and sustainably, creating a reliable platform for trade, whilst simultaneously protecting safety, health and the environment.
Standards provide people and organisations with a basis for mutual understanding and are used as tools to facilitate communication, measurement, commerce and manufacturing. They form the basis for introducing new technologies and driving innovation by ensuring that products, components and services supplied by different companies will be mutually compatible.
Whether it’s through testing, calibration, certification, inspection or verification, third party Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) provide an independent assurance of whether a product, service or process meets the requirements of a particular standard. In turn, the role of a national accreditation body such as UKAS is to determine independently whether a CAB is meeting a required level of performance by assessing its technical competence, the validity and suitability of methods, the appropriateness of facilities and equipment and/or the internal quality control procedures.
Reaching the SDGs
One of the key strengths of accredited conformity assessment is that it can be applied to almost any industry sector and situation. This has enabled it to establish a strong track record of making a significant contribution towards reaching many of the 17 SDGs outlined in the UN agenda.
SDG 3: Good health and well being
As highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, reliable medical services are essential for the effective diagnosis, assessment and treatment of patients. Accrediting medical labs to ISO 15189 and Point of Care Testing providers to ISO 22870 enables them to demonstrate their competence to deliver accurate and timely results. Similarly, there are accredited standards and schemes for assessing medical devices, imaging, physiology and medical physics and clinical engineering, as well as inspection services for care homes. Accrediting organisations against these standards helps generate confidence in the quality of healthcare services.
Food safety and hygiene is an important element of maintaining good health and accredited conformity assessment helps to ensure that food is fit and safe for consumption, whilst helping achieve sustainable agriculture and food production. There are several accredited activities across the food production chain, from farm to fork, including the testing of raw food stuffs for contaminants (ISO 17025), the certification of food safety management systems (ISO 22000) and the inspection of farms for compliance with hygiene standards, animal welfare and disease control. UKAS has also been involved in evaluating LEAF Marque assessments (Linking Environment and Farming) which recognises and encourages more sustainably farmed products. In addition, UKAS works closely with developers of ethical trading schemes, including the new Ethical Trade and Responsible Sourcing standard which is being produced by BRCGS.
SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
Samples, products, services, management systems and personnel can all be evaluated against specific requirements/standards by accredited laboratories, certification bodies and inspection bodies. So whether it’s testing for chemical and microbiological contaminants, inspecting systems or certifying water schemes, accreditation delivers confidence in the quality of water and sanitation services, providing assurance for suppliers, specifiers and consumers that they are fit and safe to use.
SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
With “green” issues becoming more pressing, governments and industries across the world are striving to find ways of improving economic performance, whilst increasing energy efficiencies and reducing consumption of scarce natural resources. From the testing of new technologies such as solar, tidal and wind power, to the inspection of nuclear power stations and the certification of energy management systems, accredited standards and schemes can support societies in these efforts, and help reduce emissions and prevent environmentally harmful products from entering the marketplace.
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
Owing to a series of international agreements, the equivalence of accredited conformity assessment services is recognised across international borders. This “accredited once, accepted everywhere” approach helps remove technical barriers to trade by reducing unnecessary duplication, thereby lowering costs for international trade whilst increasing efficiency, growth and resource allocation.
Health and safety has many positive effects on SDGs. Accreditation ensures that regulators, employers and purchasers can have confidence in the quality of services that directly impact health and safety, particularly in the workplace. These include the provision of occupational health and safety management systems, the testing for asbestos, legionella and other pollutants, as well as inspection of electrical systems and of lifting and working equipment.
SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
With industrialisation being one of the main drivers of sustainable economic development, manufacturers need to be able to demonstrate that their products will perform as claimed without harming either the end user or the environment. Accredited conformity assessment to internationally recognised standards enables manufacturers to prove that their products comply with the relevant standards and are safe to use. This applies at all stages of the production process, from the inspection and certification of supply chains (ISO 28000), to the calibration of equipment (ISO 17025), to the management of assets (ISO 55001), to the testing of both raw materials and final products such as foods, toys, electronics and cosmetics.
Accredited conformity assessment services continually evaluate new technologies, allowing innovation and trade to thrive whilst generating confidence amongst consumers and regulators that the necessary safeguards are in place to protect both the end user and the environment.
SDG 13: Climate action
From the certification of environmental and energy management systems such as ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 respectively, to the measurement of emissions under the Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS) and the testing of contaminated land, accredited conformity assessment helps reduce pollution and deliver more effective management of waste recycling.
UKAS accreditation to ISO/IEC 14065 provides an independent and authoritative declaration that the organisation carrying out the emissions for monitoring has the people, facilities, equipment, technical expertise, management systems and track record to undertake the activity impartially, consistently and competently. This plays a crucial role in allowing organisations to participate in the UK’s emissions trading schemes, as it delivers confidence in the reliability and accuracy of the reported data. Not only is this fundamental to the success of the individual schemes, it has a significant influence in shaping both government policy and industry ambitions in reducing environmental emissions.