IEC Standards and the SDGs

In 2015, the United Nations defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the foundation for its plan to build a better world by 2030. Also known as the 2030 Agenda, it recognizes that economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability must be addressed in tandem in order to achieve universal sustainable development. As part of its action plan, the 2030 Agenda calls for global cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sectors.

children playing with water
(Photo: Free-Photos on Pixabay)

In February 2019, with the aim of developing an IEC approach to SDGs, the Standardization Management Board (SMB) set up adhoc Group 84 with the primary objective of educating the IEC community about the SDGs and establishing SDG-related thinking in its standardization and conformity assessment systems.

e-tech spoke recently with the Convenor of ahG 84, Vimal Mahendru, to learn more about the role of the IEC in helping to achieve the UN SDGs. This discussion, which took place with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, showcased how current changes to the world economy may further impact the SDGs. 

Tell us about the work of adhoc Group 84

As a first step, we undertook a survey to better understand the scope of IEC Standards in electrotechnical related fields and their impact on the SDGs. Interestingly, we realised that IEC Standards can have an influence directly or indirectly on each one of the SDGs. This is obvious when we consider how much we rely on electricity and communication technologies.

The communication plan is a cornerstone of this work. Why is this so important?

Meaningful and permanent change is triggered by effective communication. In my opinion, we need to take the message explaining the work of the IEC to a much wider audience than we have in the past. One of the key efforts of ahG 84 has been to advocate for a communication plan with the aim of showcasing to the world what our national committees, technical committees and experts are doing or plan to do. This message becomes effective when it reaches IEC internal stakeholders (i.e. IEC boards, NCs, experts) as well as external stakeholders such as UN organizations, NGOs, policy makers and academia.

What is the role of technology in helping to achieve the SDGs?

Technology is a big game changer. Across the world, it has lifted people out of poverty. Going back 130 years when, for the first time, Thomas Edison brought electricity to a small part of New York, technology has been the cornerstone of economic development and, as a consequence, has improved our lives through innovation.

Technology has brought us to this point in development and it will continue to take us forward. I think technology has the power to shift things in our society and the IEC can enable the shift by publishing the relevant international standards.

I see the IEC as a custodian of society's trust. The IEC assures the global community that products conforming to its standards are safe and that they will work for society, for development and also address environmental concerns. And given this mandate, the IEC must play a pivotal role in developing trustworthy technologies (through its standardization and CA systems), which further help achieve the SDGs.

Some may question how the IEC contributes to all of the SDGs. What do you respond?

Making the connection between the work of the IEC and the SDGs is not intuitive or instantaneous. On a lighter note, I sometimes feel we are a group of techies so enthralled by technology that we forget to speak in simpler terms. But the fact remains that products which conform to IEC Standards are used in our lives each day, in our homes, at our work. When you use electricity, it is surely because a multitude of harmonized standards have given you the confidence to know that it is safe, convenient and efficient to use.

Let’s also take SDG 5 on gender equality. In some rural villages, women have traditionally had the onerous task of fetching water from the well. The electric motor used to pump water out of the well helps women by removing the physically hard labour of getting water from the well into the home. And women are then freed to do other things, including creating small businesses that contribute to the family’s income. This is how the IEC makes a fundamental contribution across all segments of our society.

SDG 7 calls for access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. Why is electricity so important for development?

About 130 years ago, nobody in the world had electricity. And today, out of a population of 9 billion, 8 billion people have electricity. Almost everything in our daily life – entertainment, work, home – depends on electricity. It is the crux of the issue: there is hardly anything that we can do without electricity. You will be hard-pressed to think of your daily life without electricity.

The challenge also is that, even today, there are around 1 billion of our fellow citizens who do not have access to electricity at all, which is tough. The work of IEC SyC LVDC addresses electricity access based on the definitions provided by the World Bank and this standardization work has commenced.

SDG 12 is about responsible production and consumption. How does this relate to the work of the IEC?

COVID-19 is a sudden shock and a rude awakening. It has reminded us that we need to urgently take better care of our shared planet. COVID-19 has shown utter disregard for geographical borders and notions of developed and developing. Our Earth has certain finite resources and we must use these resources in a sustainable manner by bringing circularity into our economies and not create mountains of waste. So, the IEC is introducing the notions of reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle into its work. I am convinced that this will lead to a more thriving society without compromising on our planet. 

IEC Standards will bring a greater sense of responsibility and accountability toward citizens and the planet.

Many companies are also addressing the SDGs. How can the IEC help industry specifically?

Industry is one of key stakeholders in the IEC. It has the motivation and ideas of how technology can be harnessed to make life better. However, IEC is not only about industry but rather about society as a whole and we have to ask ourselves how IEC Standards address the needs of society. Understanding how IEC Standards help to achieve the SDGs allows industry to invest in appropriate technologies, support standardization and bring about a better world.

How has your thinking been impacted by COVID-19 and the role of the individual in delivering the UN 2030 Agenda?

COVID-19 highlights for us the way our world functions and what we need to change. It makes us realize that the SDGs are incredibly pertinent. But it is not just for others to take this on board, but for each of us as individuals.

What has been your personal experience as the convenor of ahG 84?

Personally, it has been an immensely gratifying and uplifting experience. The meaningful exchange of ideas from the different perspectives represented, including the Chairs of CAB and MSB, IEC Young Professional Leaders and special invitees from ISO. It is also worth noting that 13 of the 15 SMB member countries were present. In a way, my job was simplified by this strong, motivated group that developed path-breaking work.  

For you, this work will continue as IEC ambassador for the SDGs.

That is right. I have the privilege of representing the IEC in various international settings and explaining the work of the IEC. Just recently, I participated in a conference on the SDGs organised by UNECE with more than 100 international organisations present. Not only was it an honour to deliver the IEC message, but it was also good to realize how much the global community respects our work. This is most rewarding and encourages me to continue my work.