Standards establish quality, characteristics, properties or performance requirements for a material, component, product or service. A standard specifies how something is to be manufactured, built, handled, or designed. Intended to be used as a rule or a guideline the aim is to achieve an optimal degree of consistency or compatibility in a given context.
Most standards are established by consensus and approved by a recognized body. These recognized bodies can represent various geographic, governmental or industry areas. The reputation and reliability of those who create the standard play a major role its acceptance and adoption. There are several hundred organizations involved in creating standards in the U.S. alone.
Other terms sometimes used interchangeably with 'standards' are: 'specifications', 'regulations', and 'code', although each of these has their own specific meaning within the Standards sphere; see the definition of Regulation/Code box below.
When standards are adopted by a governing body they become part of the regulatory code of that body. These standards (regulations or code) are no longer voluntary and must be adhered to by the affected parties. For example the Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of standards accepted and made into law by the U.S. government.