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EMS
Simple - Cost Effective - Scalable

Bryan Hall. March 2002.
Environmental Information Association (Incorporated).

Contents

Go To Background

Go To Uptake of EMSs

Go To Review of Available Material

Go To Some Recommendations

Go To Appendix 1: IS0 14000 Standards

Go To Appendix 2 Guidelines for the Internet distribution of scientific and management information

Background

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:

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:

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:

  1. Any workable environmental management system must be based on an enunciated environmental policy;
  2. 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
  3. 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:

Discussion paper: EMSs Observations & Characteristics

This paper makes a number of observations concerning Environmental Management Systems.

Discussion paper: EMSs Adoption, Training and Use

The working group proposes the adoption and use of EMSs in Agriculture should:

The working group also identifies the following possible landholder information and training needs:

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.

These volumes provide:

Other relevant publications include:

Related Links
UNEP International Environmental Technology Center

US EPA Implementing EMSs

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:

(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.

Related Links:
American National Standards Institute
Search: U.S. EPA Position Statement on Environmental Management Systems and ISO 14001 (March 6, 1998)
US EPA Home Page for EMS
Search: U.S.Environmental Protection Agency. EMS Action Plan. August 2,2001.
US National Database on Environmental Management Systems. (Funded by the U.S. PA)

Commercial & Other Enterprises

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:

  1. Providers of Professional Services (consultancies)
  2. 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:

Related Links:
Dascem Holdings

Examples of EMS Software:

There are a number of software packages, principally deriving from the United States, which provide:

Related Links:
isotop Software
Environmental Management Systems at environmentalexpert.com

Sample Documentation

Related Link:
http://www.isotop.net/19.asp

Thematic Articles

The commercial site operated by the Institute for Environmental Assessment contains a number of Thematic articles related to:

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.

Related Link
Institute for Environmental Assessment

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:

Related Link
www.p2pays.org

Some Recommendations

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:

The advantages of such an approach are:

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:

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:

  1. Virtually all PC application systems depend heavily on the characteristics of the clients computer system
  2. Clients need support to install and "fix problems" with application systems
  3. Clients will end up running different versions of the program
  4. 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:

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:

Phase 3: Longer Term:

Appendix 1: IS0 14000 Standards

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:

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:

There are a number of ISO documents dealing with various aspects of environmental management systems including:

Related Link
ISO Online

Appendix 2 Guidelines for the Internet distribution of scientific and management information

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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