Although the headquarters of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is located in Geneva, Switzerland, few people are aware that the organization was founded after a meeting that took place in London, England, in 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War. At said meeting, 65 representatives from 25 countries sought to discuss the future of international standardization in several areas.
In 1947, ISO was officially founded, having 67 technical committees. Later, in 1949, ISO moved into a small office in Geneva and, from 1950 onwards its Central Secretariat was made up of 5 staff members.
However, it was only in 1951 that ISO published its first international standard. Such standard was called “Recommendation” at the time and, therefore, had the acronym ISO/R 1:1951 – Standard reference temperature for industrial length measurements. By the way, this standard still exists today, although it has been completely reformulated, and is now known as ISO 1:2022 – Standard reference temperature for geometrical product specification.
Another milestone in the entity was the publication of the ISO 31 standard, based on the SI (système international d´unités) establishing standards for quantities and units seeking world-wide uniformity. This standard was later replaced by ISO 80000.
From the 1960s onward, ISO demonstrated additional concern for developing countries, creating the Committee for Developing Country Matters (DEVCO) in 1961. From 1968 onward, this committee started providing “correspondent membership” as a way of allowing these countries to be informed on international standardization services, without the need to bear the costs of a regular ISO membership. Currently, ISO has approximately 50 countries as correspondent members.
Because of the extensive nature of ISO standards, in 1968, the organization standardized freight containers, thereby revolutionizing the import and export procedures. This standardization brought uniformity to freight and packaging of goods around the world.
In 1971, ISO created its first 2 technical committees in the environmental field: (i) air quality and (ii) water quality. Currently, these committees have been included in other expert groups, covering numerous subjects such as soil quality, environmental management, and renewable energy.
The most significant shift in ISO's history is unquestionably the introduction of the ISO 9000 family, starting in 1987. These are standards on a quality management system, focusing on improving the quality of products and services, in order to meet the expectations of their customers.
From 1995 onward, ISO migrated to the digital world, making its standards available in digital format.
Another paradigm for ISO was the launch of the ISO 14000 family of standards in 1996, regarding environmental management. These standards allowed companies and organizations to identify and control their environmental impact.
In 2005, ISO joined the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), an international organization that also aims to standardize norms related to electrical, electronic, and associated technologies. Together, they introduced a highly significant standard that remains relevant today: the information security management system, established through the publication of the ISO 27000 family. This family of standards has become one of the most relevant currently available by ISO.
In 2010, ISO also worked on standardized norms for social responsibility, publishing the 26000 family of standards.
Aware of the development in the business environment and environmental concerns, ISO launched standard 50001 in 2011. This standard offers public and private sectors the management of strategies to improve energy efficiency and to reduce costs.
In 2016, ISO published a powerful tool to be used against corruption, the standard 37001. This standard aims to help organizations mitigate corruption risks in their operations, reducing corporate risks and costs, and creating a manageable business model to prevent, detect, and address corruption.
70 years after its official foundation in 1947, that is, in 2017, ISO already had 163 members and a total of 21,000 standards, representing notable progress throughout its history.
Taking a clinical look at working conditions around the world, ISO launched the 45000 family of standards in 2018. These standards establish global standards to be adopted in occupational health and in the management of a workplace safety system, aiming to help companies and organizations of any size to reduce illnesses and accidents resulting from the work performed by their employees.
The following year, in 2019, ISO turned to a relevant standard regarding innovation management, ISO 56002. The organization aimed to keep businesses of any size agile, adaptable, and resilient to face current challenges.
ISO was also concerned about equality between men and women when creating the ISO Gender Action Plan in 2019. That plan outlined five priority areas that focus on collecting data, creating a network to share best practices, and raising awareness of standards supporting gender equality and women's empowerment.
An equally relevant fact, given a new situation for the entire world during the pandemic caused by COVID-19, was the publication of the ISO/PAS 45005 standard. This standard aims to establish standards for a healthy and safe work environment.