Standardization and Certification: Indissociable but different

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services


As a member of the conformity assessment community, I get asked: what’s the difference between conformity assessment, standardization and certification? Actually, they’re different things.

Broadly speaking, I’d say this. Certification is part of the conformity assessment process, which includes declarations of conformity and homologation. It is the process by which a third party judges whether or not a product or service meets an international or national standard. If it does they certify it.
To me it’s clear, but that’s my job. So let’s get things straight.

What is standardization and why?

Standardization is a voluntary, consensual process. Authorities, standards officials, customers and manufacturers meet to consider mature and emerging technologies. Their goal? That they should operate to a frame of reference specifications.
Take mobile phones. They’re governed by standards so work wherever you are. But not plugs and inlets. Why? Because when they were first manufactured, there was no regional or international standards. Only national ones, which explains the situation today.
Standardization professionals work ahead of the market, imagining new trends and requirements and taking into account the existing ones. I would say a standard is the touchstone of technology. International standards bodies like ISO and IEC establish the consensual state of the art for mature technologies.
Standards also make marketing sense. They improve your products and open up markets. But you need to supply proof. That means having them assessed and certified to standard.
Imagine you make low-voltage switchgear that complies with IEC 60947-2. You need to demonstrate its conformity. That involves submitting to certification by a third-party organization that issues a certificate.

What’s a certification body?

One that’s different from a standards body. It assesses and certifies conformity with standards. Take China.
Its conformity mark is CCC (China Compulsory Certification). The third party that carries out conformity assessment is the China Quality Certification Centre (CQC). It delivers certification to the Chinese national standard, GB. So far, so good.
But the picture clouds in the US. There most customers want products that meet the US national standard, UL (in the electrical industry). For them, that means with the UL conformity mark on the package. They mix up standards and certification.
UL is the technical standard of reference. But UL is also a private company that does conformity assessment. It’s just one of 18 nationally recognized test laboratories on the US market which provide conformity assessment service in the electrical field.

What does certification cover?

Products, quality, safety, manufacturing processes, etc. But not “solutions” (systems) in areas of growing importance like energy efficiency.
It is the responsibility of all stakeholders to decide if certification can add value to such markets and, if so, to build the right certification schemes.
In fact, all stakeholders (big and small) should be involved in conformity assessment and certification and work closely with regulators. Big companies are already a driving force in standardization. I believe we all have a similar role to play in conformity assessment and certification schemes.

Any thoughts or experience you’d like to share?

Tags: , ,


  • Dear Mr. Selva,

    I agree with your definition. Certification bodies such as ASTA part of Intertek group, participates actively to standard technical groups and provide independent contribution based on experience with laboratory and client latest technology.

    Additionally to your definition of certification above, we, ASTA certification body, is often being asked the difference between ‘Type Test’ and ‘type 5 Certification Mark’. The first one allows a piece of equipment or component to be certified at one point in time. The second one provides additional assurance that the equipment or components is continuously certified and monitored thanks to various factory inspections or again design change validation from certification body. The latter provides continuous support on standard changes which may prove useful to manufacturers not having sufficient resources to attend technical committee on a regular basis.

    Additionally, depending of national market regulations and contractual needs, certain countries may accept certification marks such as ETL (North American) or ASTA (UK) in support of client’s projects globally. However specific countries require additional mandatory verifications such as Conformity Assessment Programme (CAP) in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is a standard set by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for all products exported to Saudi Arabia. The scheme issues SASO Certificate Of Conformity (CoC) for defined scope.

    Certification activities validate primarily safety features of equipment or component; it also provides a point of differentiation in the marketplace and consumers peace of mind about their product purchases. Such activities are often referred as ‘performance’ services or mark. But that’s not all; certification is only 1 step within the global supply chain where increasingly traceability and validation of equipment and services validated independently are requested by end-users by accessing online database such as for the equipment sourced at all time.

    In conclusion to the above, certification such as ASTA shall be considered by manufacturers as a passport to global markets but above as an independent safety validation of equipment submitted to end-users.

  • Pierre Selva

    11 years ago

    Dear Mr Balaire,
    Many thanks for your contribution which enriches the subject.
    The information you provide are a good complement to the initial blog.

  • Shahnaz Alam

    10 years ago

    So if certification is done as per standard requirement, the same is done in accreditation. So what is the difference between certification and accreditation

  • PIerre Selva

    10 years ago

    Best way to answer your question is to have a look in the ISO-IEC 17000 standard (Conformity assessment — Vocabulary and general principles)

    Accreditiation is defined as follow :
    “third-party attestation (5.2) related to a conformity assessment body (2.5) conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out specific
    conformity assessment tasks”

    And the note 2 of the clause 5.5 related to certification says :
    “Certification is applicable to all objects of conformity assessment except for conformity assessment bodies (2.5) themselves, to which accreditation (5.6) is

    Hoping this will answer your query,

    Best regards,

  • The wordings on the UL certificate is important too. Take LRD06 for example. E164353 was supposed to be its UL certificate but due to its wording “LRD and LR3D followed by two digit numbers, followed by L…”, this may be misconstrued to mean that it is a must to be followed by “L”. What is your view on this?

Comments are closed.