Todays Standards are the Regulations of Tomorrow

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In my work as Director of Global Standards, Codes and Environment for the Schneider Electric IT Business, I often work with or present testimony to government entities as they come up with various sorts of regulations. Over the years, it’s become quite clear that if you want to know what tomorrow’s regulations are going to look like, take a look at today’s standards.

The reason is that when governments create regulations to govern, say, carbon emissions, they aren’t doing so in a vacuum. Wherever possible, they’re supposed to incorporate existing national or international standards and use them as the basis for any new regulations.

Take for example the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), which is a global registry and rating system for green electronics. Products that meet certain requirements with respect to environmental impact get listed on the EPEAT registry. The criteria EPEAT uses to assess that impact is based on existing standards, namely IEEE 1680.1 for PCs, 1680.2 for imaging systems such as printers, and 1680.3, for televisions.

If you’re a contractor to the federal government or a government agency, you’re required to comply with federal acquisition regulations with respect to IT equipment. Often those requirements specify that products must comply with regulations like Energy Star and EPEAT. If you’d been paying attention to the IEEE 1680 specifications, you were ahead of the game and had no problem complying.

Here’s another fairly recent example of how regulations follow standards. The California Energy Commission last year issued regulations governing the efficiency rating of battery charger systems. Schneider Electric was more than a little interested in this effort because, as you may know, part of what a UPS system does is charge batteries – and we sell an awful lot of UPS systems.

So, we needed to determine which types of battery chargers California was interested in regulating. They basically said they were interested only in consumer-oriented chargers. But there is no universally accepted definition for a consumer battery charger, or for a “small” battery charger.

In looking closely at exactly what the state was trying to achieve, we determined that the types of UPS systems that fit the mold were known as voltage independent, or VI – meaning the output voltage is independent of the input voltage. Now, we do have a standard that describes the attributes of VI Class UPS systems, namely IEC 62040-3.

That enabled us to neatly categorize the types of products the California law would cover.  At the same time, it gave clarity to our customers as to whether their UPS systems needed to comply with the new law (most don’t).

We see examples of this kind of regulation all the time. When you see a product with the Energy Star logo, you know it meets a certain standard for energy efficiency. If it carries the UL logo, you can be assured it meets safety requirements for that product category. But before the product was able to display that logo, it’s a pretty safe bet it also had to adhere to one or more industry standards. The point is, when it comes to IT and data center equipment, standards are your friend – and they will often keep you one step ahead of the regulators.

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