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Understanding certification

This heading is intended to expose you to the regulatory and technical terms used in the field of certification. The definitions provided herein are aimed at being as clear and concise as possible for you to better understand the meaning of a brand and the EC marking, in addition to distinguishing them from a standard.

What does it mean?

A brand

A certified brand may be awarded to a product that respects a set of predefined standards. It serves as proof that a product is compliant with applicable standards and moreover that a proper inspection program is in place, thus making it possible to monitor production of the given item.

From the expert's desk

In many countries, the main difference between collective brands and certified brands stems from the fact that the former can only be used by a specific group of companies, e.g. members of a consortium, whereas the latter is available to any entity provided that the criteria established by the brand holder are being respected. The recording of a certified brand is subject to a key constraint: the requesting entity must be considered as "competent for certifying" the particular set of products.

In France, a certified brand is noted in the Intellectual Property Code; it may appear alongside the producer's individual brand for a given product. The label affixed to a certified brand will serve as proof that the company's products satisfy the specific standards required for brand use.

The "NF" brand

This is one of Europe's most widespread certification brands. Its purpose is to serve as a guide for consumers in order to assist them in making better choices, consuming better and guaranteeing the quality of products or services they use. This brand meets an entire series of requirements for each product or service category, as catalogued within an "NF" certification benchmark, which has been validated by the sector's stakeholders.

From the expert's desk

Manufacturers and service professionals voluntarily choose to undergo a comprehensive assessment conducted by independent bodies specialized in the particular sector.

Three "NF" brands have been created: the "NF" brand for industrial products and consumer goods, the "NF Environment" brand for products designed to be eco-responsible, and the "NF Services" brand for services provided.

Note 1:

A total of 13 independent bodies are involved in granting the "NF" certification. Their requirements pertain to the inspection of products and services that must be tested and controlled on a regular basis. Quality must be compliant with a set of predefined standards. The safety measures in effect must ensure risk-free use.

Note 2:

The "NF" brand is awarded by the AFNOR Certification organization, a subsidiary of the AFNOR Group, as well as by certain bodies affiliated with the "NF" network and commissioned by AFNOR Certification to proceed with certification protocol steps. Compliance with French standards is mandatory in France for all public sector procurement or construction contracts.

The "EC" marking

This is the visible sign indicating a product's compliance with the requirements stipulated in European legislation. To carry this marking, the product would have had to first undergo a battery of controls and tests in order to ensure its compliance with requirements established in the relevant directive or directives. It is incumbent upon the manufacturer of a product awarded this marking to affix the appropriate labeling prior to the product's release on the European market.

From the expert's desk

Compliance evaluation procedures can be classified into two major categories. The self-declaration procedure calls for the manufacturer to carry out controls under its own responsibility. For this purpose, the manufacturer is granted an authorization to conduct any necessary test and assessment either in-house or through commissioning the laboratory of its choice. An obligation, on the other hand, entails relying on a so-called "notified" third-party body to inspect the products while following a special procedure stipulated in the given directive(s).

Note 1:

Regulation EC No. 765/2008 adopted on July 9th 2008 assigns the general EC marking guidelines.

Note 2:

National product monitoring and safety authorities (customs or Consumer Protection Directorate, in particular) may require a compliance declaration and accompanying technical file to be submitted so as to verify validity of the marking.

A label

A label refers to a collective brand that is displayed by distinctive signs/symbols like a name or logo. A label may be used by multiple relevant brands adhering to the same set of specifications. It is aimed at ensuring and facilitating the recognition of certain product characteristics. A label is not, in and of itself, a quality guarantee, but simply the assurance that the product in question features certain characteristics that attest to its means of production or composition.

A standard

A standard is a document that sets forth rules, guidelines or characteristics known to guarantee best results when a product or service is used on a regular basis. Such a document provides the basis for facilitating relationships between economic, scientific, technical and labor partners. It is generated by a process of consensus involving representatives of all stakeholders. Its application is voluntary except in the event a regulation adopted insists on mandatory application, whether in part or in full. The standards in effect may be French (NF), European (EN) or international (ISO).

From the expert's desk

Four types of standards can be distinguished:

  • So-called fundamental standards, which refer to standards overseeing standards, i.e. those serving to develop other standards regarding terminology, metrology and symbols.
  • Testing and analytical methods aimed at measuring individual components, chemical composition.
  • Specifications of a product / service, thresholds of performance and fitness for use.
  • Organizational standards, also known as "3rd type" (ISO 9000, commercial excellence, etc.); these describe a company function or mode of operations.

A standardization committee

Such a committee constitutes an official international, national or regional institution. Its missions consist of: inventorying the extent of standardization needs; devising strategies for issuing standards; coordinating the programs leading to successful standard implementation; representing national interests within the ancillary bodies; participating in developmental efforts at the international, national or regional scale; adopting, disseminating and promoting the standards once adopted, and lastly developing the certification protocol.

A European Directive

This directive connotes a legal act issued by European Commission institutions. It involves the EU Member States, which receive submission of a target objective with an imposed deadline. Each Member State is then free to choose the means allocated to achieve said objective.

From the expert's desk

To effectively address a European Directive, all Member States must transpose the given directive into their national legislation in the form of a law or decree.

The generation and adoption of a European Directive are steps punctuated by several stages. Various institutions take part in this process, including the European Commission, Council of the European Union and the European Parliament.

The directives are then published in the European Union's Official Journal under the heading "Acts whose publication is not a condition of their applicability". Directives become effective on the date specified in their language or, failing that, on the 20th day following their publication.

The voluntary certification

This notion refers to an action by which a duly accredited and independent body provides a written guarantee (in the form of a certificate) that an organization, process, service, product or specific set of competences are compliant with predefined requirements, as stipulated in a pertinent reference document. A voluntary certification is not tied to any applicable regulation.

The regulatory certification

This type of certification also refers to an action by which a duly accredited and independent body provides a written guarantee (in the form of a certificate) that an organization, process, service, product or specific set of competences are compliant with predefined requirements, as stipulated in a pertinent reference document. A regulatory certification, on the other hand, fully respects a national, European or international regulation; moreover, it authorizes the market release or circulation of products under its purview.

A certified product

This status refers to the certification delivered by an independent and impartial third party stating that the product satisfies, at a given point in time, a number of predefined requirements, as listed in a reference document.

A notified body

Such a body must be competent, independent and moreover appointed by a government agency to conduct compliance evaluation missions, controls and testing in accordance with prescribed directives. A notified body is empowered for just certain types of products and certain certification procedures.

From the expert's desk

The notified body and its personnel are required to carry out evaluation and verification activities with the highest level of professional integrity and the requisite competences to perform in the field of medical devices. Moreover, they must be free of all external pressures and interests, in particular financial, regarding their inspection work, and this especially applies to all those with a stake in the verification results.

An accredited body

A body in this category has received a vote of confidence from the public authorities. The objective of an accreditation here is to vouch for the reliability of services completed. Obviously, such confidence can only legitimately be conferred if the accrediting body itself enjoys a stellar reputation.

The ISO 50001 certification

ISO 50001 is an international standard (ISO). It is applicable to administrative bodies, regardless of their sector of activity, seeking to adopt a streamlined energy management system. This particular system offers a practical approach to controlling energy consumption and continuously improving energy performance. The objective behind this certification is to optimize energy use.

From the expert's desk

Five action triggers enable an organization to improve its energy performance, namely: introduction of a regulation, human resources management to optimize technical competence and stimulate good behavior, strict attention to maintenance, a well-conceived design, and purchasing practices that anticipate all potential concerns.

Audits focusing on compliance with ISO 50001 requirements rely on: tangible objectives, implementation of actions aimed at optimizing energy use, verification of the savings realized, and scheduling of subsequent improvement actions.

The ISO 27001 certification

ISO 27001 is also an international standard (ISO). It is applicable to administrative bodies seeking to ensure the security of their information, in particular financial data, documents submitted for intellectual property patents, information relative to personnel or data entrusted to them by third parties. This certification serves to guarantee clients, partners, oversight authorities, etc. that information system security has been fully addressed and moreover that the organization has embarked upon a continuous improvement process.

From the expert's desk

The certification issued in accordance with Standard ISO 27001 ensures:

  • benefiting from a high level of information security while minimizing risks;
  • standing out from the competition with a stronger and documented vote of confidence;
  • enhancing performance in the area of information security, through optimizing costs for better control over internal processes and showcasing employees' competences;
  • adopting and promoting best security practices;
  • demonstrating improvement over time;
  • optimizing and justifying security-related budgets.

The COFRAC accreditation

COFRAC is the French acronym for the French Accreditation Committee, which is the country's sole accreditation body. Four COFRAC subcommittees are responsible for managing the accreditation process, each assigned a separate field: laboratories, inspection, certification, and public health.

From the expert's desk

Given its public service mission, COFRAC plays a key role in support of innovation, public policy and the economy in general. It strives to define, in conjunction with the requesting party, the most appropriate accreditation process with respect to the needs being expressed and the international standards in effect.
These efforts benefit all accredited bodies inasmuch as they enable COFRAC, via feedback input into its Development Committee sessions, to continuously improve the processes and tools being implemented to further enhance accreditation service efficiency, while complying with all applicable standards.

Whether intended to satisfy public authorities, private requests or compliance evaluation bodies, the reliance on accreditation services winds up raising the level of confidence shown by the market as regards compliance evaluation.