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A sustainability focused environmental management system

Roger Collins

Manager Economic and Environmental Planning, Manningham City Council

In December 1998, Manningham City Council successfully implemented an Environmental Management System (EMS) across all Service Units of its operation. The system is certified to the international ISO 14001 EMS standard.

The EMS was designed and developed by an in-house team and is purpose built. It was determined that a system designed to comply with the requirements of the ISO Standards, which is aimed at ‘managing’ pollution and waste, would not effectively address the many roles that Local Government plays. The Manningham system has adapted the Standard so that it applies to a service based industry concerned with long-term sustainability and improvement, rather than, but not excluding waste and pollution and the need to meet compliance arrangements.

Motivated to enhance environmental quality and municipal service delivery, the in-house team developed a comprehensive policy-driven EMS to meet the sustainability objectives of the Council’s Corporate Plan.

The EMS has enabled the development of an internal mechanism for assessing Manningham’s environmental performance and for enhancing the municipality’s ability to address the critical issues of pollution, waste, biodiversity, climate damage and soil degradation.

The EMS has recently been subject to the (requisite) major external audit and has been successful in maintaining its ISO certification.

Numerous lessons have been learned during the three years operating under the management system and significant benefits realised.

The introduction of an EMS represents a major shift in corporate culture for municipal organisations. Manningham’s approach — with policy as a main driver and including all service units rather than just those involved in environmental activities — was critical to its success.

Why an EMS?

Prior to the implementation of the management system, the Council’s performance in delivering the sustainability objectives contained its Corporate Plan and various environmental policies were considered to be ‘below average’ and certainly ad hoc. Possibly similar to many organisations, the Council many fine policies on its shelves, but these were not being translated into good on-ground performance.

Poor environmental performance is usually due to:

  • policy failure (‘I didn’t know about that policy’)
  • disorganisation (‘I thought someone else was doing that’)
  • lack of knowledge or lack of interest (‘Why should I be responsible for the environment’)
  • unclear environmental goals (‘We will improve water quality’)

Having considered a range of options to enhance performance it was determined that a purpose built EMS would best respond to the service objectives and deliver the desired outcomes, in the Manningham context.

Sustainability policy or compliance policy?

The policy that is adopted by the organisation is critical. A policy focussing on environmental risk (compliance) will fulfil Standard requirements and clean up ‘dirty’ operations.

However, a policy focussing on environmental opportunity, influence and sustainability is far more powerful than a compliance approach and will result in an EMS that covers all areas of Council and assists those organisations responding to issues including Environmental Reporting and Local Agenda 21.

EMS policy

The policy is linked and integrated with the Corporate Plan. Council is committed to being a sustainability-promoting organisation.

Council is committed to dealing with the cause of environmental unsustainability and applying a strong precautionary approach.

The City of Manningham GreenPrint has utilised ‘Stretch Goals’ — ‘Inspirational goals which help us to make ‘leapfrog’ changes in the process of continual improvement.’ These goals are:


What does the EMS look like?

An EMS is an accredited management system, which requires an organisation to monitor and measure the environmental performance of its activities, services and products, in order to improve environmental performance. According to the ISO standards, there are six components of an EMS:

  • An environmental policy, which outlines the organisation’s intentions and commitment to environmental performance.
  • Planning, whereby the organisation assesses the environmental impact of its operations.
  • Implementation, the development and implementation of actions to meet the environmental goals and objectives.
  • Monitoring, and measurement of indicators to ensure that goals and objectives are being met.
  • Management review, of the EMS by management to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness; and
  • Continual improvement.

Documentation of the Council’s processes, done during the earlier Quality Assurance process through flow charts, work instructions etc, was reviewed and updated and which clearly set out:

  • what you do;
  • how you do it;
  • who is responsible;
  • performance/environmental targets;
  • any legal implications of your activities;
  • mechanisms for monitoring and measuring your progress;
  • how you deal with ‘non conformances’;
  • processes for communicating both internally and externally;
  • processes for ongoing Management Review

Outcomes ...

Clearly, the implementation of an EMS is not cost free. Putting aside the actual cost of the system there is the considerable cost of staff time. At Manningham, six to ten staff were variously involved in the design of the system and the staff training program. The conservation co-ordinator acted as project facilitator. Every member of staff participated in training sessions and managers and key staff required extended training.

In the years since the implementation of the management system there have been significant benefits arising from the system. Environmental action has been integrated across Council, with better co-ordinated policies and procedures. There has been a significant improvement in organisational communication, and empowerment of staff to consider, and act on, environmental issues. Managers are required to report on their EMS responsibilities.

Some of the practical outcomes of the implementation of the EMS include:

  • an energy audit of the Municipal Offices identifying $30–$40,000 of savings each year;
  • maternal and Child Health centres using green cleaners, advocating organic food, weighing babies on cloth nappies;
  • environmental training as part of Council’s youth program;
  • advising companies of our ‘no excessive packaging’ policy (eg IT Unit and computers);
  • contractors following an Environmental Code of Tendering, development of Environmental Management Plans standard;
  • purchase of double sided printers;
  • a phasing in of the purchase of dedicated LPG cars for the Council’s vehicle fleet;
  • service agreements with community groups which ensure that any grants are provided on the basis that the organisation shall comply with sustainability guidelines (eg rubbish disposal at Festivals);
  • guidelines for design and the use of building materials in all new facilities with life cycle assessment, recycled component and energy efficiency as key requirements;
  • establishment of environmental training program with local retailers outlining the benefits of ‘greening business’.

Perhaps most importantly, the EMS has increased overall awareness of sustainability throughout the organisation. All staff have an understanding of the term and its relevance to their day-to-day activities and can appreciate the broader applications to their everyday lives.

Issues and lessons learned

The implementation of an EMS demonstrates that local government can successfully integrate environmental decision-making and sustainability initiatives with their corporate objectives, and furthermore, streamlines overhead cost management. However the Manningham EMS is in effect promoting cultural change, which requires ongoing involvement and committed staff to steer the direction of change.

The significant outcome of the EMS is the shift to institutional knowledge from individual knowledge. Without such a shift in culture within the organisation, all you have is a collection of individuals holding a program together ... once key individuals go, any improvements can very quickly disappear.

Key aspects that have contributed to the successful implementation of the EMS at Manningham include the whole of organisation approach that meant that all service units were involved. Which shares the responsibility as well as challenging all units to identify and respond to their own environmental impacts. The support of the senior management team, which meant that the use of the EMS became a corporate goal, and was used on some occasions to ‘prompt’ reluctant managers. On-going and effective staff training and the broad definition of environmental impacts, means that Manningham has moved beyond environmental management as risk management, to environmental management as continual environmental improvement.

A particular longer-term requirement for the continued effectiveness of the EMS is that the senior management group of the organisation assume responsibility for the system. For the first couple of years the administration and management of the EMS was ‘allocated’ to the Corporate Development Service Unit of Council. Whilst this group did an excellent administrative job, there can be little doubt that the relevance of the system to day-to-day activity waned, as did the necessary on-going training. It also became apparent that there was a major ‘review’ gap in the system. The assessment of significance was left with the relevant Service Unit manager. Matters of real significance were not handled appropriately, a circumstance that would not have occurred given a ‘centralised’ review system. This is now being addressed through the establishment of a management system Management Committee whose terms of reference include the overall responsibility for the maintenance of the system and assisting in the assigning of priority to aspects and impacts and associated improvement opportunities.

A major program of system integration is underway. Whilst it was always intended that the separate elements of quality, environment, occupational health and safety and staff training would form one ‘seamless’ management system, this did not initially eventuate. What occurred was the perception that particular Service Units of Council ‘owned’ elements of the management system. The referencing used on system documentation reinforced this by identifying the elements of the system through replicating internal acronyms. This has been rectified by the ‘redesign’ of the system to comprise a new and ‘autonomous’ system of document identification. The diagram below has also been distributed to all staff to simply illustrate the management system structure.

The acceptance of organisational change is highly influenced by the ease of transition and the robustness of the changes being introduced. An EMS potentially constitutes a very radical change to organisational thinking and operation. As an example of how things can go awry, the system at Manningham incorporated an electronic database. Whilst the database itself was generally effective in what it was intended to do, the operating platform and quality of some of the infrastructure to remote locations severely affected performance. These ‘imperfections’ gave recalcitrant users of the EMS an opportunity to criticise the system and raise doubts about its effectiveness.


In utilising the EMS approach, the City of Manningham, has developed an internal mechanism to implement its commitment to being a sustainability-promoting organisation. The EMS plays a significant role in ensuring that the Council manages environmental issues and impacts in a comprehensive and effective manner. The EMS integrates sustainability into the policies, procedures and activities of the entire corporation.

About the author

Roger Collins currently manages a multidisciplinary team delivering a range of integrated environmental planning services to the Council and also to the wider community via an external business arm EnviroPlan. Roger was part of the in-house team that designed, developed and implemented an Environmental Management System certified to ISO 14001 standard. Rogers’ particular areas of expertise are local government management and administration, integrated environmental management, environmental management systems and multidisciplinary project management.

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