Green Safety: Facilitating Global Trade

Keith E. Williams, President & CEO, Underwriters Laboratories


In the 21st century, green safety is as important as were electrical safety and fire safety to the 20th century. Standards provide a competitive edge to companies to limit unfair competition, achieve significant cost-savings, and simplify access to many more markets. Underwriters Laboratories believes that the IEC represents the opportunity to harmonize standards globally so that manufacturers can make one product and serve all the world markets in a manner that will be safe to the planet and human kind.



Keith E. Williams, President & CEO, Underwriters Laboratories

How does UL impact people's lives?

Williams: I think Underwriters Laboratories has had a dramatic impact over its more than a century of existence. UL started in 1894. Going back to the founding of the company, electricity was a very new thing at that time. People were frankly afraid of electricity. There were shocks and fires. Although today we take electricity for granted, in 1894 people were really reluctant to actually want to have it. I think the work that UL and other organizations such as the IEC did during that period brought a huge amount of confidence to the public about the safety and the safe use of electricity. I think we continue to do that today because new technologies always come along that people are concerned about. "Is this safe?" "Can I use that technology in my home or in my factory?" And I think that the things that we do help to bring that confidence to people, have actually helped since the very beginning of the company.

What are UL's main activities?

Williams: We started with just a handful of tests in the first year and today we perform something like 95 000 product tests a year. We issue something in the order of 20+ billion marks every year.

UL is active in four sectors today. First of all, we are a standards development organization. We manage more than a thousand standards. Our second area of activity is the conformity assessment of products against UL standards of course, but also against IEC International Standards and other standards. Thirdly we have a field service sector. We go into factories and help to verify that the product they manufacture is the same product that was submitted to UL for certification. Finally, we have a variety of activities that are related to anti-counterfeiting and to basic safety education and awareness.

Would you say that safety is at the core of UL's activities?

Williams: We do not ever want manufacturers to compromise safety in order to reduce the cost of a product simply to get it into the marketplace. I think that, essentially, standards and conformity assessment – they go hand in hand really – set a basic framework for competition. On the one hand, people can feel safe to trade products internationally, across boundaries; on the other, reliable, reputable manufacturers know that the products they are making will not ever have to face unfair competition from someone who doesn't care about quality and is willing to sacrifice public safety in order to make a cheaper product.

UL is actively involved in IEC work. Why?

Williams: The IEC to us represents the opportunity to harmonize standards globally so that manufacturers can make one product and serve all the world markets in a manner that will be safe. For us, the IEC is really one of the most important partners in the world. UL participates fully in all the activities of the IEC.

In particular, we participate with the management at all levels within the IEC. And we participate in technical working groups that work in new technology development, that work in new standards, that move the world forward.

The main way to get good standards in the IEC is to continue dialogue. It's a people process. And the way to make a people process work and to produce good results is to be part of the process all the time, to be a contributor, to put forward new ideas, to put forward new information, and also to listen to ideas and information from other people, searching for the best result. We think the IEC is essential.

How do you see the future for UL? How do you see the world in 2025?

Williams: We think UL will be, by 2020-2025, a fully global company where we will be able to provide global certification really for any market in the world. Secondly we think we will be a significant support to the world in terms of issues of environmental safety and energy efficiency. Green safety will be, already is, as important to the 21st century as electrical safety and fire safety were to the 20th century. And we have become very much more aware, as a society, that we have to be careful with the materials we use and the products we make. We have to make sure that those products are energy-efficient so that they are contributing less to the world's carbon footprint. We have to make sure that those products are recyclable. UL is developing programs and marks and other activities that will give manufacturers the kind of confidence where they can say: "Yes, this product is electrically safe, it's fire safe, it's also environmentally safe."