The Environmental Management Systems Working Group of the Natural Resource Management Standing Committee have written a discussion paper: "Towards a National Framework for the Development of Environmental Management Systems in Agriculture". The committee has called for submissions concerning this discussion paper (submissions close 31 March 2002). This submission has been written to assist the committee in evaluating the extent to which internet based information systems may assist in achieving their stated goals.
There are a number of commercial businesses active in the area of developing EMSs on behalf of clients and governments the world over also see roles for themselves in assisting with EMS Implementation. This submission focuses on:
Factors which will influence the uptake of EMSs and summarising or briefly restating various observations made in the discussion paper which are relevant to the current considerations
Providing a brief review of EMS information support facilities and services currently available
Making certain recommendations concerning information support facilities that may be developed to foster the widespread uptake of EMSs in Australian Agriculture
General Background on the ISO 14000 standards and their relationship to environmental management systems is provided in Appendix 1. Appendix 2 provides guidelines for the Internet distribution of scientific and management information.
Uptake of EMSs
Environmental, economic and regulatory factors will have a bearing, directly and indirectly, on the uptake of EMSs in Australian Agriculture. Development and use of Environmental Management Systems may allow enterprises to:
make savings in energy and materials consumption
minimise their environmental impacts
maintain compliance with environmental laws
improve economic and environmental outcomes and
satisfy their suppliers (and or customers) that they undertake production in accordance with certain environmental standards.
It is clear that if the process of establishing and using an EMS is simple, cost effective and flexible then the rate of EMS uptake and usage will be enhanced. The core premises of the ISO 14000 approach require that:
Any workable environmental management system must be based on an enunciated environmental policy;
The work must proceed from a judgment-based identification of significant environmental impacts that may result from "aspects" of the company’s operations, through a common-sense ranking and prioritization process and toward a scheduled determination and implementation of appropriate prevention or mitigation measures; and
The effort must be documented by objective evidence of, at least, a commitment to conform and efforts that demonstrate that commitment.
Reference: Environmental Management Systems Network emsnet.com
Towards a National EMS Framework in Australian Agriculture Discussion paper
The discussion paper, "Towards a National Framework for the Development of Environmental Management Systems in Agriculture", makes a number of observations concerning EMSs and promotes the view that catchments and regions are the most appropriate scales for managing natural resource issues and that the catchment will become the standard spatial scale for setting off-farm natural resource management objectives.
Discussion paper: EMSs Outcomes Sought by Governments
The outcomes sought by governments in promoting EMSs include:
improved environmental and natural resource management, including more efficient resource use, better protection and management of biodiversity and reduced flows of chemicals off farms and into water catchments;
improved competitiveness and economic development through enhanced global market access and stronger rural communities. Interest in EMSs in several Australian States has been stimulated by the emergence of `green' trade barriers in overseas markets;
less need for regulation and conflict management. Farmers are increasingly concerned about restrictions and pressures imposed on agriculture by neighbours and the community. EMSs could be seen as an alternative approach to further legislation. Industry-led interest in EMSs overseas has also been stimulated by threat of stricter environmental regulation and by community-led lawsuits against environmentally irresponsible companies; and
health and safety. Regulations for key health and safety issues tend to set minimum standards. There is potential for the EMS to provide an integrated management tool to simplify management tasks and deliver better outcomes in some situations.
This paper makes a number of observations concerning Environmental Management Systems.
Property management planning carried out on individual properties cannot necessarily achieve sustainable natural resource management at the landscape scale and EMS adoption by an industry in isolation of catchment-wide priorities will not necessarily achieve the required benefits for a particular catchment.
Regional strategic planning supports protection of natural resource values (particularly biodiversity) that rely on ecosystem functioning at least at the landscape scale. Improved outcomes may be obtained through the development of catchment plans that fully engage landholders in contributing to the achievement of the desired changes. The EMS process may provide a valuable tool for translating broad strategies into practical on-ground actions.
Catchments and regions are generally recognised as the most appropriate scales for managing natural resource issues. It is likely that the catchment will become the standard spatial scale for setting off-farm natural resource management objectives. Governments are increasingly focusing attention at this scale in order to achieve tangible environmental improvements over the medium to longer term.
The first step in EMS development is to review environmental impacts in order to identify the environmental issues that an EMS needs to cover.
Any environmental or natural resource management issue can be included in an EMS including biodiversity conservation, greenhouse emissions, environmental impacts, water quality and salinity and stream bank and landscape management.
EMS must be able to be readily integrated with other management processes and there must be good communication between landholders and authorities responsible for regional or catchment plans
Landholders already maintain records to meet requirements for financial accountability, food safety, occupational health and safety, and quality assurance (QA).
Typical family farms do not have the management resources to implement complex systems, and even large farms will be seeking management systems that avoid duplication.
Governments have a role to provide information on different environmental issues so that farmers can make sound decisions on priorities and manage them in an integrated manner.
A critical area for future action will be the regular updating of industry and government policies and plans to respond to our deepening understanding of environmental issues and the changing needs of the community. Notably, policies developed to address vertical integration issues facing individual industries will increasingly need to address industry responsibilities at the catchment and regional scale.
Discussion paper: EMSs Adoption, Training and Use
The working group proposes the adoption and use of EMSs in Agriculture should:
be voluntary and industry and/or community led.
demonstrate links between competitiveness and natural resource management objectives.
be simple, cost effective, user-friendly, able to be phased in at any level and provide clear advantages to the adopting enterprise.
be adaptable and provide for continuous improvement.
be consistent with existing internationally recognised systems (such as ISO 14001, EUREP GAP protocol) and be capable of independent audit.
The working group also identifies the following possible landholder information and training needs:
education courses dealing with EMS principles and processes;
reviews to assist landholders to determine and prioritise environmental effects and set objectives and targets.
Determination of indicators of sustainability may be a component of an environmental audit;
information on mandatory legal requirements and goals set in other relevant policies and strategies including catchment or regional strategies;
access to resource information collected at an appropriate scale for landholders;
guidelines to help determine options and appropriate responses for identified environmental objectives; and
guidance in monitoring and evaluation.
Review of Available Material
Since the ISO14000 series, to a large extent, separates processes from application, much of the methodology is common across the environmental management field. Consequently much can be learned by studying EMS support systems and applications which focus on both non-agricultural and agricultural systems.
United Nations Environment Program
The United Nations Environment Program have produced Environmental Management & Training Resource Kits as a hard copy books.
Environmental Management System Training Resource Kit 2nd Edition UNEP, 2001, ISBN: 090591841X)
Urban Environmental Management: Environmental Management System Training Resource Kit UNEP Year of publication: 2001 ISBN: 9280720546
These volumes provide:
Thematic modules dealing with issues such as water, transportation and tourism. The modules include fact sheets, case studies and other information
Methods for training, organising workshops (distribution) and follow-up (feedback)
Tools for the dissemination of the concept of EMS for local authorities.
Other relevant publications include:
Technical Workbook on Environmental Management Tools for Decision Analysis
UNEP's Survey of Information Systems Related to Environmentally Sound Technologies
The Councillor as Guardian of the Environment - A Training Handbook for Elected Leadership on How to Utilize Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs)
Work-book for Training in Environmental Technology Assessment (EnTA) for Decision-makers
In the report, Aiming for Excellence: Actions to Encourage Stewardship and Accelerate Environmental Progress (July 1999), the US EPA advised that:
"We will encourage organizations to use EMSs that improve compliance, pollution prevention, and other measures of environmental performance. We ’ll continue evaluation efforts to learn more about which EMS elements and applications are most effective, and we ’ll determine how these systems might be used to strengthen environmental programs and policies."
The US EPA have now prepared an Action Plan which lays out the steps they will take to promote the use of EMSs and in so doing improve environmental performance. The Action plan discusses of a number elements designed to assist in EMS implementation. The elements most relevant to the current discussion are:
Element 1: US EPA to Develop Tools and Other Resources to Support EMS Implementation
Publish Implementation Guides for Small and Medium-sized Businesses;
Establish a web-based EMS Resource Center;
Develop a chemical database to assist small businesses and other entities in integrating environmental risk into their EMS; and
Develop a national PEER center to provide information to public agencies interested in adopting EMSs.
Element 2: Strengthen and Expand EMS Assistance Networks to Assist Small Organizations in EMS Implementation
Element 3: Provide Recognition and Incentives to Organizations with Effective EMSs
Element 4: Incorporate EMS Elements into Sector and Geographic Based Programs
Element 7: Conduct Research and Evaluation of EPA ’s EMS Programs
Element 11: Integrate EMSs into Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Activities
Element 12: Incorporate EMSs into Pollution Prevention Programs
(US) National Database on Environmental Management Systems
The USEPA have sponsored the development of the National Database on Environmental Management Systems. This site runs off the server of the University of Carolina and it provides access to research papers and reports, databases and other resources on environmental management systems.
There are a number of enterprises offering services and products intended to help organisations to develop EMSs deriving from, or consistent with, the ISO 14000 standards. These commercial operators can be divided into two not necessarily mutually exclusive classes:
Providers of Professional Services (consultancies)
Providers of information systems and services (principally software based) to assist in the preparation of EMSs.
This submission focuses on information systems. In evaluating these systems it should always be remembered that the development and implementation of an Environmental Management System either by an enterprise, a professional association, industry lobby group, or a professional consultant is best achieved by following a clearly definable process. To take a typical example, the consultancy Dascem Holdings state that, in producing Environmental Management Systems, they proceed through these steps:
an initial Environmental Review
development of an Environmental Policy
establishment of Environmental Objectives and Targets
production of Management and Procedures Manuals
collating a Legislation Register
an Environmental Assessment Survey
implementation of a training program for management and staff
The commercial site operated by the Institute for Environmental Assessment contains a number of Thematic articles related to:
Bloodborne Pathogen Standard for Schools
CFC Refrigerants: Consider Your Options
Chemical Hygiene Plans
Environmental Property Audits
Underground Storage Tanks (USTs)
While these articles are not of specific relevance to the committees deliberations they are however of interest as demonstration articles that have been written and incorporated into a specific knowledge base for EMS purposes.
North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance
The Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance have created a useful Internet site providing technical assistance on the elimination, reduction, reuse and recycling of wastes and pollutants. The Site Map is simply to use and provides ready access to relevant information under a range of relevant headings including EMSs:
To have any prospect of building a scalable, fast and generally useful information resource the most fundamental requirement is that the base line information be accessible in an interchangeable text format and that the text be available independently of both the graphics and the layout or presentation characteristic of any particular internet site or article. It must be stated as emphatically as possible that this categorically rules out the dumping of documents in the pdf format and relegates graphics and other ephemeral presentation issues to being of secondary importance. The committee is urged, in the strongest terms possible, to never loose site of the fact that it is the information that matters and it has to be accessible in varying formats and presentations depending on circumstances which can not always be fully anticipated at the time of development.
In this authors view, existing initiatives such as the National Land and Water Resources Audit and many other projects conducted by other (national, state & local) government and non-government land management enterprises have necessarily identified characteristic industries and land-use management practices across Australia. The Environmental Management Systems Working Group should therefore seek to capitalise on existing resources and create, principally from existing material, an over-riding framework facilitating the integration of EMSs at the enterprise level across a range of target agricultural industries and geographical regions. The architecture to achieve this would necessarily be:
driven by content rather than available technology
focussed specifically on providing practical resources to Land Managers to assist in implementing EMSs
simple to use, scalable, fast and flexible and allow access in remote regions where communication systems are limited (see Appendix 2)
principally Internet based, but structured so that the latest copies of locationally and industry specific packages could be easily supplied in hard copy formats and on CD-ROM
as far as possible independent of the clients computer operating system or software capability (see Appendix 2)
historical government and other investment in producing high quality content will be capitalised upon
business and other enterprises seeking to establish EMSs will find the process simple
template or thematic EMSs could be developed at varying levels reflecting differences in both the relevant environmental issues and the complexity of the enterprises involved
the process of producing new scientific and management work could be streamlined as the overriding information system could be developed to facilitate these processes
over-time the approach would also permit the evaluation of EMSs as environmental management tools
due to the open copyright policy any value added to information deriving from the project is necessarily available to the general community
There are examples of sophisticated information management systems which lack the necessary content to justify the investment required to develop them. By contrast, the approach recommended here necessarily requires a commitment to making the EMS system content rich. This requires a significant investment in time (but not necessarily money) in order to make sure that the system is information rich rather than being technology rich but content poor.
It is well known that any attempt to develop "complete" and comprehensive information systems entails considerable risk of failure. Gilb has discussed alternative development methodologies and suggests that development should proceed via an evolutionary approach (Principles of Software Engineering Management. ISBN: 0201192462 Publisher: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. Pub. Date: June 1988). This requires that the key stake-holders core information requirements and critical performance attributes be identified. A system which meets these requirements should be developed and implemented first and then used as the basis for further developments. The development and implementation of information systems via an inherently iterative process which focuses on content rather than feature rich systems can yield very effective systems which meet user's needs as they evolve over time. The recommended systems development strategy is therefore based on an evolutionary process and involves:
identifying the information required to render acceptable system output
integrating the information into an appropriate content delivery system (which may be quite simple)
testing the concepts on real content in an interactive and realistic manner
building prototype applications only on the basis of an initially specified information model and functional requirements based on stake-holder requirements and user experience
To assist in the process of building prototype applications and establishing an information model it is recommended that the committee review some of the EMS software packages advertised at the above mentioned links. However, in the opinion of this author, the committee should not develop a PC application system since:
Virtually all PC application systems depend heavily on the characteristics of the clients computer system
Clients need support to install and "fix problems" with application systems
Clients will end up running different versions of the program
Clients will loose access to the hardware on which their application package is running (eg staff turn-over, system failure and administrators "rolling equipment over")
It is therefore recommended that the committee proceed to develop an internet based information facility in three phases. The system development phases outlined ensure that the subsequent development of more sophisticated information support systems (phases 2 & 3) proceeds in a constructive and well ordered manner and that those systems will have access to real and relevant information resources. While it seems essential to undertake the development program in the order outlined the view may be formed that it is not necessary to implement all the aspects described in phases 2 and 3 to obtain a system that fulfills both the users and administrators requirements satisfactorily.
Phase 1: Immediate Term:
Initially the system must:
provide thematic background information relevant to the implementation of EMSs across a range of agricultural industries and geographical regions
identify a range of agricultural industries and enterprises of varying scales and prepare and publish sample outline documentation
provide default or template EMSs prepared within the context of a wider geographical and national framework and suitable for integration into organisations of varying levels of complexity
Much of this material will necessarily consist of, or be abstracted from, books, research reviews or other appropriate high quality predominately text based material. This material must contain readable summaries backed by more in-depth information. The information system must integrate the material into an appropriate content delivery system (which may be quite simple) and deliver predominately HTML based documents, with a content delivery script, in accordance with the guidelines stated in Appendix 2 of this document. Phase 1 is best achieved without using a database management system thus keeping programming overhead to a minimum and no commitment to any particular development platform is required.
Phase 2: Medium Term:
Investigate the development of decision support systems. In this regard the Basic Decision Support System for Stream Management may be of interest to the Committee. The committees attention is drawn to the working data sheets in Appendix 1 of this document
Basic Decision Support System - Streams
Investigate the need for and the implementation of data management, integration and reporting systems which may assist in evaluating environmental outcomes as a result of the use or non-use of EMSs. The au.riversinfo.org data-base reporting systems will
Establish a clients (or users) identity
Obtain and process a list of client submissions and or data input
Confirm the clients submissions to them
Email the clients submissions to the client, appropriate system administrators and other interested parties
Investigate developing XML standards for the publication of relevant information which allows information to be analysed by various software algorithms as it is passed from the server to the client. This means, for example, that if a client wanted information on EIS for Mushroom Farming that the system could provide information related especially to that characteristic enterprise and the information could be analysed in terms of key words and concepts resident in an associated database. Attention is drawn to the StreamWatch E-Lib system and the National River Health Program publication initiatives. These are available at:
Streamwatch - Elib National River Health Program W3c Extensible Markup Language (XML)
Investigate internet based information sharing packages currently available. The committee is encouraged to investigate a range of information sharing systems. The present author has extensive knowledge regarding how these systems should function and in addition to testing his own systems is aware of the following systems:
Investigate introducing spatial analysis capabilities into the EMS support framework. This could be done using any of a number of Web Map servers. The attention of the committee is drawn to the Open GIS consortium, Streamwatch, SPLASH and the NSW CANRI project as sample spatial information sharing facilities.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), whose membership is drawn from national standards bodies of member countries, established a technical committee (ISO/TC 207) in 1993 for developing standards prescribing the essential characteristics of environmental management systems. ISO have now drafted a series of standards which, by specifying general requirements for environmental management systems, facilitate their formulation implementation and improvement in a structured and coordinated way. These standards, originally published in 1996, run under the series numbers 14000 and are intended for implementation in any type of organization that seeks to set and evaluate environmental objectives and targets. Currently the published documents in this series address:
Environmental management systems
Environmental auditing and other related Environmental investigations
Environmental performance evaluation
Life cycle assessment
Environmental aspects in product standards and
Terms and definitions.
The ISO brochure ISO 14000 – Meet the whole family has been published to help organisations choose the combination of ISO 14000 environmental management standards that best meets their needs. It draws specific attention to the following members from the ISO 14000 family of standards:
ISO 14001: 1996 Environmental management systems Specification with guidance for use
ISO 14004: 1996 Environmental management systems General guidelines on principles, systems and supporting techniques
ISO 14010: 1996 Guidelines for environmental auditing General principles
ISO 14011: 1996 Guidelines for environmental auditing Audit procedures Auditing of environmental management systems
ISO 14012: 1996 Guidelines for environmental auditing Qualification criteria for environmental auditors
ISO/ WD 14015 Environmental assessment of sites and entities
There are a number of ISO documents dealing with various aspects of environmental management systems including:
Environmental labels and declarations
Environmental performance evaluation
Life cycle assessment
Environmental management Vocabulary
Information to assist organizations in the use of Environmental Management System standards
Guides for the inclusion of environmental aspects in product standards
Appendix 2 Guidelines for the Internet distribution of scientific and management information
Documents served must be able to be viewed and utilised on any standard HTML 4 compliant Internet Browser
On the title page of all documents delivered to clients it should be possible to read the entire title and elementary publication details (statement of document origin or author) on the first display screen when using a monitor which supports 800 (horizontal) by 600 (vertical) pixel display
The site should be fully navigable and readable by a browser whose image loading features are switched off
In order to receive the full text of a typical 100 page hard copy report a user should not be required to download more than 500 kilobytes (kb) of data (in practice 200 kb to 300 kb should be achievable)
Images included as part of a parent document dispatched to clients are not to exceed file sizes of 150 kb. Where a 150 kb image is of insufficient quality for client requirements higher resolution downloads may be made available
Users must be informed of file downloads where the file size exceeds 500 kb
Independence from 3rd party systems The present author has no role in developing or maintaining any of the third party systems or Internet sites mentioned in this document. They have been listed purely for the information of the committee to assist them in evaluating various environmental information systems.
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