What are standards?

Standards are written out, formal and voluntary agreements for products and services.

  • these agreements (calculations, tables, values, applications, methods, processes, etc.) were made by stakeholders. Think of the business community, associations, governments etc.,
  • the agreements are made so everyone knows what they can expect from everyone. They provide market parties clarity and trust in products, services or organizations and challenge the society to innovate.
A practical example: you buy a light bulb and turn it into the fitting of your lamp. That it fits and works is because (technical) specifications have been made about the dimensions of both the lamp and the fitting. Such a document with the agreements is called a norm and everyone who has to deal with lamps works with this. Thanks to standards, your lamp always fits, it is safe and durable. If you buy a light bulb, you do not have to think about it. That's fine, right?


Standards are not just about products, but also about systems or services. Are workers well protected during their work? How many toilets are needed at an event? How do you measure the carrying capacity of a balcony? And much more!

From the extraction of the raw material, til well after you have thrown away the lamp - standards affect every part of the chain. 

Standards vs. laws

Laws are determined by the government, standards by stakeholders.

If you pass a law, you will be punished. If you exceed a norm, chaos will arise. Your light bulb does not fit in your lamp, milk can not be trusted, your debit card does not fit in the machine and cars can not drive on gasoline abroad.

Norms are not mandatory, but sometimes the law makes it compulsory to refer to them. Why? Because the agreements (made by experts) are so good that if you ensure that you meet the standard, the law is satisfied with it.


Standardization is a process to realize a standard. 

This process is open, transparent and focused on consensus and takes place in standard committees which consist of representatives of all involved parties. This doesn’t occur only on national level but also on international level.

The organization that supports the standardization process in the Netherlands is NEN, established in 1916 by the Netherlands Society for Trade and Industry and the Royal Institute of Engineers.

NEN as a non-profit organization, brings interested parties together to make jointly applicable agreements and facilitates their implementation.

Where can I find the standards?

In the database of the Netherlands Standardization Institute and the NEC Foundation (since 2000 together as NEN):

What's in it for me?

Standards are good for the economy, the environment and more. And for a student? Why reinvent the wheel?!

If you know the important standards to your field of study or interest:

  • You learn from experts how companies work,
  • You learn what the expectations of the market are,
  • You can make your projects meet the standards!

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