By Rick Andrew
A term that tends to come up in conversations with manufacturers operating in multiple geographic markets is global certification. This is an interesting term because it can have several different meanings, depending on the context of the conversation. It is important to consider this context as these discussions take place because there can also be quite a bit of misunderstanding about what global certification means, what it doesn’t mean, whether it is legitimate or whether it doesn’t really exist and why.
One certification for the globe
One obvious connotation of the term would be a certification that is valid globally. On the surface, this seems to be a straightforward concept. It actually does have two different meanings in this context, however. The first meaning is one related to certifications providing a basis for regulatory approval. In other words, by having a global certification, does a product meet regulatory requirements around the globe? If this were the case (and there were such a global certification), life would be good! Unfortunately, this is not really the case. Many countries have different regulatory requirements and standards with different testing methodologies and laboratory accreditation rules that currently (at least) preclude any sort of global certification in this context.
The second meaning when considering whether a certification is valid globally is that the associated certification mark can be displayed on the product, packaging, associated marketing materials, etc., without restriction around the globe. Fortunately, this ability is typically the case. Certification marks can usually be displayed on products when authorized by the certification body, regardless of the country in which the product is being sold or distributed. In many countries, the certification mark may not constitute meeting regulatory requirements, which must be met separately from displaying these marks. Instead, the certification mark is a symbol of third-party assurance that can help influence consumer perceptions about the quality of the product and therefore, enhance the product’s value.
Consistent certification requirements around the globe
Another connotation of global certification is with respect to certification bodies that have offices and in multiple countries. I sometimes receive questions as to whether a certification issued by an office in Belgium is the same as a certification issued by an office of the same certification body in South Korea. People may be wondering if the certification process and criteria are the same, whether the certificate that is issued is the same and whether people in certain countries might question the certification (if it was issued by an office of a given certification body in a different country).
The good news here is that certification bodies have consistent processes, requirements, policies and certifications, regardless of which local office is providing service to the client. A certification to NSF/ANSI 53 is the same certification whether the manufacturer works with a certification body office in the United States or an office of that same certification body in India. The certification listings are displayed on the same website and the certificate is the same certificate. So in this sense, certifications truly are global.
In another related twist, these questions can focus on the location of the manufacturing facility as opposed to the location of the certification-body office providing service. I have been asked whether the requirements for a given certification are the same for a manufacturing facility in Asia as for a manufacturing facility in North America. And the answer is yes, the requirements are the same. In each case, the product is tested to the same standard, the same manufacturing facility audit with the same audit-report template is conducted and the same level of product information is required. The certification process is the same and the end result is that the same certification is issued regardless of the country location of the manufacturing facility.
Different end uses
Yet another connotation of global certification relates to end uses of the product. Within the realm of water treatment, for example, there are several different end uses to consider, which include:
- Point of use (POU)
- Point of entry (POE)
- Small public water supply
- Public water supply
- Recreational water
These different end uses dictate different considerations that lead to different standards and therefore, different certification requirements, even for the same exact product. For example, the requirements for safety of materials in contact with drinking water are different from the requirements for safety of materials in contact with recreational water. One is not drinking-recreational (pool and spa) water, typically and certainly not a quantity of two liters per day, which is assumed for drinking-water consumption. Even POU products have a different end-use pattern from other drinking water treatment end uses: the water in a POU product typically stagnates in the unit for longer periods of time with no flow than in other end-use applications (for example, a public water supply where flow is nearly constant).
So we end up with different standards and requirements for treatment technologies (and other products) that have different end uses, even if the various end uses are related to water and even for the same product. In these cases, no certification is global because a given certification is appropriate only to the specific end uses for which it is intended. A filter cartridge may be used for treating recreational water, drinking water at a public water treatment plant, water for whole a building or in a POU water filtration system. Each one of these different end uses has different considerations as described above and in North America, at least, different standards and test methods apply to the same product under each end-use condition.
Global certifications: yes and no
There is no specific definition of this certification and different people use the term in various ways, depending on context. The term can be discussed relative to regulatory approval, use of certification marks globally, consistency in certification to a given standard or criteria across the globe, based on certification-body office and/or manufacturing facility location and certification requirements for a given product, considering a global range of end uses.
Depending on context, global certification may be a reality, a myth, a misunderstanding, a technical issue leading to different standards and test methods or a concept that can be worked toward in the future. Therefore, it is important when having a global certification discussion to consider the context in which the term is meant. Keep in mind that with other contexts or connotations, the meaning of the term, as well as its legitimacy as a concept, does vary.
About the author
Rick Andrew is NSF’s Director of Global Business Development – Water Systems. Previously, he served as General Manager of NSF’s Drinking Water Treatment Units (POU/POE), ERS (Protocols) and Biosafety Cabinetry Programs. Andrew has a Bachelor’s Degree in chemistry and an MBA from the University of Michigan. He can be reached at (800) NSF-MARK or email: Andrew@nsf.org