For 100 years, Finland has used standards to promote competitiveness, the functioning of society, public safety, and national security. Today, the role of standards in world trade has become more strategic and even politicised, as major powers utilise standardization of novel technologies to gain advantage over each other. Celebrating its 100th anniversary, SFS Finnish Standards continues to serve the ever-changing needs of businesses and society.
“The long and prominent history of standardization in Finland shows that the importance of common practices and rules – standards – in building and maintaining competitiveness was understood here as early as a hundred years ago. It was truly visionary for the time,” says Helena Vänskä, the Managing Director of SFS Finnish Standards.
During its centenary year, SFS celebrates its history in many ways. One of the changes more visible to the general public concerns the name of the organisation. From 1 February 2024, SFS’s official name is SFS Finnish Standards, replacing the old name Finnish Standards Association SFS.
Over the course of the century, standardization in Europe has expanded from individual standards for traditional industries to those concerning new innovations, service industries, and increasingly complex technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum technology. As global challenges continue to push us to find new common solutions, standards are key. In global competition, large economies are actively seeking market leadership through standards in areas such as the green transition, innovations, and critical technologies and materials.
Standardization strategy boosts businesses and develops society
In the 2020s, Europe’s focus is not only on its internal market but also increasingly on the global marketplace. In order to promote and uphold the position of European standardization in the global market, the European Commission published the EU’s first standardization strategy in 2022. Finland, too, has recognised the increasingly strategic role of standardization as a driver of competitiveness. As stated in the Finnish Government Programme, Finland’s first national standardization strategy will be developed in 2024 under the guidance of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.
“Global challenges continue to increase the importance of standards. When it comes to curbing the climate and sustainability crisis, creating novel technological innovations, and supporting the developing countries, standards play a significant role. SFS Finnish Standards will continue to promote the development of Finnish businesses and society,” says Helena Vänskä.
From serving the domestic market to promoting exports
A century ago, the machinery and metal industry as well as the pulp and paper industry required harmonisation and improved efficiency, which lead to discussions on the considerable benefits of standardization. A newly independent country, Finland well understood the role of standardization in boosting export industries. The Finnish Standardization Board was founded in 1924 under the auspices of the department of trade and industry. Among the first standardization organisations in Europe were BSI in the United Kingdom, founded in 1901, BN in Belgium (1904), and DIN in Germany (1917).
In Finland, standards were mostly developed for the domestic market until the establishment of the European single market. In the single market, common standards enable the free movement of products and services. Without standards, i.e. common agreements on requirements, test methods, and other rules, bringing new products to the single market would be a significantly more complicated and expensive for individual companies.
European standardization began in earnest in 1986. Since then the standards used in Finland have increasingly comprised European and global standards. In 2023, these accounted for 97 percent of all standards used in Finland.