Our knowledge of standards is often limited to how they enable safe, efficient day-to-day life. We rarely consider the strategic importance of standards in innovation activities or the international growth of companies. Now is the time for Finland to fully embrace the importance of standards and to prepare a national standardisation strategy to harness standards as a tool for innovation and industrial policy and boost the competitive strength of our country.

Standards refer to documentation including recommendations, guidelines or requirements concerning a certain subject. They specify means of producing functional, safe services and products that are not harmful to people or the environment.

The compatibilities resulting from standards also make our day-to-day lives easier. They ensure that a Finnish bank card will fit foreign cash machines and that any paper supplier’s A4 paper can be used in any printer. Standards also help consumers deduce the quality and safety of a product or service. Standards for toys or safety reflectors for pedestrians, for example, contain requirements for safety and functionality.

Standards are also important to businesses. Companies seeking international growth need consistent tools. Standards are known to make it easier for businesses to export products and services. They improve the company’s chances on the market and help tackle obstacles in commerce. Standards also promote economic growth and increase the productivity of work; research shows that standardisation improves productivity by an average of 0.7% annually.

Moreover, standards are a prerequisite for fruitful innovation. In order to commercialise new products, technology and other innovation, they must comply with the regulations and requirements of their industry and be compatible with other products or technology already on the market. In fact, finding out the relevant, existing standards as early as possible is a vital step in RDI activities. Sometimes, there may be a lack of pre-existing standards in a certain sector. In that case, it is important to assess the need for new standards and tap into the role of a pioneer in preparing them.

The EU sees standardisation as strategically important. In its standardisation strategy released last year, the European Commission emphasises the importance of standards in promoting the competitiveness and technological autonomy of Europe. Furthermore, the EU considers standards to provide a valuable means of tackling challenges caused by the climate and energy crisis. The Commission also aims to make innovation more profitable through standardisation, for example by encouraging operators in the research and innovation framework programme Horizon Europe to pay attention to standards and predict new standardisation needs well in advance. This increases the commercialisation and other impact of research.

Finland, unfortunately, has not realised the importance of standardisation. We have fallen behind our comparison countries in this regard. Sweden, for example, has had a national standardisation strategy since 2015. However, more extensive, strategic utilisation of standards is also needed to promote the competitiveness and pioneering status of the Finnish export industry.

It is high time for Finland to make progress in the use of standards; the Government programme must include a record of a national standardisation strategy that will embrace standards as tools of innovation and industrial policy and boost the competitive strength of Finland.