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Enhancing the social content in EMS

Frank Vanclay1 and Genevieve Carruthers2

1 The Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research,


There has been criticism that Environmental Management Systems (EMSs) do not address the social aspects of agriculture and farming. However, a strong case can be made that the ISO 14000 process allows social issues to be included, and it is clear that EMS outcomes would be improved if greater prominence was given to the social issues. A review of the EMS implementation on Australian farms revealed that there were many social dimensions to the EMS. While these were not necessarily explicitly recognised by the farmers, certifiers and/or regulators, these social factors were very important to the ongoing commitment to, and operation of, the EMSs. Social factors enhance the operation of the EMS, reinforce initial motivations and have major benefits for the farm business. However, gaining recognition of these factors was difficult, measuring changes in social interactions not easily achievable and not well recognised or rewarded by outside stakeholders. The development of improved mechanisms for valuing social factors in agricultural contexts, better understanding of the roles of these factors amongst EMS certifiers and advisors, and more explicit acknowledgement of the importance of these factors on overall farm management is required. The paper will outline how the EMS process can and does address social issues.

This paper provides an overview of ongoing work discussed previously by (Carruthers & Vanclay 2007).

ISO 14001 has a social goal

  • The aim of EMS “is to support environmental protection and prevention of pollution in balance with socio-economic needs” (SA, 2004: iv).
  • “The objective of this Standard is to specify requirements for an environmental management system (EMS) to enable an organization to develop and implement a policy and objectives which take into account legal requirements and other requirements to which the organization subscribes, and information about significant environmental aspects. (Standards Australia, 2004: ii)

Defining key concepts

  • 3.5 environment: surroundings in which an organization (3.16) operates, including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans, and their interrelation
  • 3.6 environmental aspect: element of an organization’s (3.16) activities or products or services that can interact with the environment (3.5)
  • NOTE A significant environmental aspect has or can have a significant environmental impact (3.7).
  • 3.7 environmental impact: any change to the environment (3.5), whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from an organization’s (3.16) environmental aspects (3.6)

Scope of EMS

  • the Standard does not establish absolute requirements for env performance beyond the organization’s own env policy other than:
    (i) to comply with applicable legal & other requirements to which the organization subscribes, (ii) the prevention of pollution, and (iii) continual improvement.
  • It is a voluntary approach where the organization sets its own goals against general principles.
  • The important dimension is the focus on things which the organization itself has considered to be important, can control or influence.

Guidelines: issues to consider

  • a) its mission, vision, core values and beliefs;
  • b) coordination with other organizational policies (e.g. quality, occupational health and safety);
  • c) the requirements of, and communication with, interested parties;
  • d) guiding principles;
  • e) specific local or regional conditions;
  • f) its commitments to prevention of pollution and continual improvement;
  • g) its commitment to comply with legal requirements and other requirements to which the organization subscribes.

Specific clauses

  • Clause 4.2 (Environmental policy) requires that each organization develop an environmental policy which is to be communicated to all who work either in the business or on behalf of the business (eg. contractors) as well as to the public. These prescribed features of the development and implementation of the EMS emphasise that communication with staff and stakeholders is crucial.
  • Clause 4.3 (Planning) requires that assessment of the significance of the environmental impacts be considered. The general intention is that the viewpoints of all stakeholders need to be considered in order to ensure that all potential ‘significance’ criteria are evaluated.
  • Continuous improvement

The continual improvement concept is a means to ensure that not only are environmental improvements a key feature, so too is an on-going driving culture change in the business leading to triple-bottom line outcomes.

Social benefits from EMS

  • Work is home, home is work
  • Farming activities can affect neighbours and neighbouring communities
  • Everyday social interactions are more significant than in industrial settings.
  • Creating personal and family time
  • Succession planning
  • Negotiating family partnerships and roles on the farm
  • Gaining a voice, increasing social standing, having legitimacy, proof of claim
  • Personal satisfaction

Examples from the case studies

  • More confidence in management (90%)
  • Greater peace of mind (80%)
  • Improved health and safety (70%)
  • Increased trust in staff, allowing owner to take a holiday for 1st time in years.
  • Increased pride in work, and increased job satisfaction by staff
  • Reduction in local conflicts over landuse


  • Social outcomes do occur as a result of EMS adoption, whether intended or not.
  • Social outcomes add value to the EMS, to the business, and to society.
  • There is nothing about ISO14001 that prohibits specific focus on social issues.
  • Social issues are not recognised by farmers, advisors or certifiers.
  • We need more discussion around them!


Carruthers, G. & Vanclay, F. (2007) “Enhancing the social content of Environmental Management Systems in Australian agriculture”, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology 6(3): 326-340.

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