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Experiences of Australian Construction Companies with Environmental Management System Implementation

Ambika Zutshi

Deakin University, Bowater School of Management & Marketing, Faculty of Business & Law, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125. Email


The release of ISO 14001 in 1996, the international standard for environment, has resulted in an increased significance and acceptance of Environmental Management System (EMS) across various industrial sectors, the construction industry being one of them. There is increasing interest amongst researchers and practitioners around the world in undertaking studies to identify the impact of EMS on construction operations. This paper adds to this growing body of literature in this area. It presents the experiences of four Australasian construction organisations that have implemented an EMS and/or have been certified to ISO 14001. Managers from these four companies were interviewed to identify any changes that may have occurred with respect to EMS adoption and their respective organization’s response to these changes. Based on the results of the analysis and review of the literature, a number of recommendations are made that can assist in reducing the challenges encountered by organizations when implementing EMS.


ISO 14001, Construction Industry, Australia, Stakeholders, Case Studies.

Environmental Management System

Environmental Management Systems (EMS) is defined as “part of an organisation’s management system used to develop and implement its environmental policy and manage its environmental aspects” (AS/NZS ISO14001:2004, 2004, p.2). The construction industry has come a long way from the days when work was solely done by manual labour in the 1950’s to use of information technology, robotics, and environmental friendly materials in the twenty-first century. The characteristics that differentiate the construction sector from manufacturing and services can be at one or more levels: products offered and market, technological, completion structure, capital and labour market, and the ecological and environmental effects from their products (Zantanidis and Tsiotras, 1998; Kartam et al., 2004; and Miozzo & Ivory, 2000). This results in both the providers and users experiencing a number of challenges when accomplishing construction projects (Miozzo & Ivory, 2000).

The growing awareness within the community and the construction sector itself of the environmental issues and the increasing pressure from the government and environmental agencies to reduce the industry’s impact on the ecological and social environment has led to the adoption of EMS. The ‘official’ emphasis on environmental and sustainable issues in Australia started in mid-1999 following the launch of ‘Building and Construction Industries Action Agenda’ by Senator Nick Minchin (Schultze, 1999, p.1). The ‘Action Agenda’ has been developed jointly by the National Building and Construction Committee (NatBACC) and the Australian Government. One of the five key improvement areas in the construction projects as identified by the ‘Action Agenda’ included ‘environmental management’ (Schultze, 1999, p.1). In 2000 (Matt, 2000) the ‘Construct Improvement Roundtable’ was established which invited experts from various fields of the construction industry to make the NSW industry globally competitive. In the view of Mr. Morris Lemma, the then New South Wales Minister for Public Works and Services, the “Roundtable will provide a basis for building a better relationship across the construction industry, so that … economic, environmental, and social outcomes for the people of NSW” (Matt, 2000, p.1) can be achieved. In addition to these programs of the Australasian government to make the construction industry globally competitive, the Minister for Sport and Tourism launched the new on-line benchmarking initiative ‘GlobalConstruct’ for businesses (Kelly, 2001). ‘GlobalConstruct’ is a joint initiative between the Australian Construction and the construction industry and is part of the ‘Action Agenda’ project.

The Civil Construction Federation (CCF) (CCF, 2001) in Australia represents the interests of its members from various organisational sizes. In response to the requirements to have a minimum set of standards to be able to qualify especially for government tenders, CCF initiated its national ‘pre-qualification’ program (referred to here as the CCF-EMS). The program has been so named as it incorporates approximately 80% of the ISO 14001 elements that are applicable to the construction sector (see Figure I). The objective of the program was to simplify and reduce the costs of implementing standard programs such as quality, OHS and environmental, especially for small to medium-sized contractors.

Figure I: Stages in the adoption of the CCF-EMS

The next section presents the methodology used to undertake this project.

Research Methodology

Managers from four Australasian organizations were interviewed with respect to their company’s EMS adoption process. The interviews explored the various steps undertaken by the companies to adopt the EMS and/or certify to their EMS to a formal standard such as ISO 14001. The interviewees were also asked to discuss the roles played by the employees, top management and suppliers, as organisational stakeholders during their EMS adoption process.

Analysis and Discussion of the Findings

The main findings from the interviews are discussed in this section. Three of four companies had been certified to the ISO 14001 standard while the fourth company had its internal EMS certified to the CCF standard. EMS adoption is voluntary for organisations however this seems to be changing in the Australian construction sector especially for those organisations that provide or wish to provide services to state governments. Accordingly, ‘To be able to apply and compete for government projects’ was cited as the main reason by the interviewed companies to implement an EMS. Other reasons cited for implementing EMS included ‘To become a market leader’; and ‘To be able to undertake and complete projects in an environmental friendly way’. None of the four companies had fully quantified the benefits resulting from EMS adoption, though interviewees reported more intangible as opposed to tangible benefits such as improved corporate image; increased market share’ and better relationships with their stakeholders. Two of the four interviewees said their companies had been able to secure additional work following EMS implementation.

Interviewees were asked to identify how their organisations’ top management was involved in various stages of EMS adoption. In all the four companies, the directive to adopt EMS came from the top and, the top managers were regularly updated on the status of various projects and their ecological environmental impacts. Interviewed managers were asked to recall and identify the role played by their employees during EMS adoption stages and in all instances employees generally played a more proactive role during the implementation than the planning stages. When enquired about their contractors involvement, the interviewees mentioned that steadily suppliers were required to have some form of EMS in place to continue working on the project.

Recommendations by interviewees

Listed below are some of the recommendations provided by the interviewees for organisations contemplating implementation of an EMS and/or subsequently certification to a formal standard such as ISO 14001. These recommendations are based on the experiences of the interviewees when implementing EMS within their respective organizations and the literature review.

Support from the top management is crucial for the successful implementation and maintenance of the system. One interviewee emphasised this point by saying that “the main [thing] is to have management support in developing and implementing the EMS, without that, I don’t think it’s possible to implement the actual system as a successful system”. In the view and experience of this interviewee this support extends beyond just making available the necessary funding to “talking to the project managers and other managers and employees”. Another interviewee stated that this top management “commitment needs to be well publicised throughout the organisation. [In other words] the management needs to say what we [the company] are doing and why we are doing it and give the reasons” for the EMS implementation. Awareness of this commitment will bring “support from all levels” of the company and will ensure successful adoption of EMS.

The company’s management needs to ensure that there are enough resources (time, expertise, and staff, in addition to dollars) for the system to be implemented. “It doesn’t have to be an enormously expensive process … it’s a matter of getting enough guidance and assistance” when implementing the system as explained by one of the interviewees. In views of another interviewee a company “needs resources [such as] qualified people to set up the system and manage it” and without access to these resources the system could fall down, for instance, due to lack of support for the changes being made to upgrading of the system. Another interviewee highlighted that once the commitment from the top is achieved and resources are available, “it’s a matter of maintenance” of the [EM] system. Within the construction sector this involves “addressing of the issues at the beginning of each project and monitoring and auditing them … feedback comes” along with it.

The employees should be involved in the EMS adoption process as early as possible and if practical even during the planning stages as supported by the interviewees. This is because they have a better understanding of the on-site activities and can accordingly provide constructive input. This involvement will also assist in reducing resistance from them during the implementation stages. Employees should be trained and made aware of the EMS elements and its significance for the company’s business. The difference between environmental aspects and impacts and their identification should also be part of the employees training program. This training can be conducted in a number of different ways, depending on the size of the organisation, the type of project, and the extent of aspects-impacts within the sector, as commented by one of the interviewees in the following words, “tool box meetings, depending on the site, can be weekly or they can be fortnightly or they can be monthly, that’s stipulated by the actual builder on-site”. This training will assist in increasing awareness, knowledge and understanding within the employees, thus reducing resistance during the implementation of the new system.

The objectives and targets set by the company following the identification of the aspects and impacts and their prioritisation should be realistic and achievable. This is more true for the subcontractors whose activities are dependent and directed by the on-site contractor. Consequently some of the objectives and targets set by the company may have limited scope of application and achievability on-site, however these targets can assist the company in tracking the progress of the EMS implementation program.

Many benefits received from EMS are long-term and companies should view EMS as a long, rather than a short-term investment. Also, not all benefits received from the EMS implementation can be quantified in dollar terms and companies need to be aware of this fact. For instance, increased environmental awareness amongst the employees and better corporate image cannot be easily quantified into dollar figures.

If accessible, companies in the construction sector, regardless of their size and nature of their business, should refer to the CCF-EMS guidelines. One of the interviewees said that if one of their “sub-contractor [does] not have a proper system [in place], we usually refer them to the Civil Contractors Federation, so that they can follow up the guidelines”. In other words, organisations should try to find out if there are industry-specific guidelines for EMS implementation. It will be helpful to refer to these guidelines as these will have involved sector specific requirements and challenges expected with system implementation.

These recommendations are general in nature and caution should be taken by managers when implementing them as they may need to be tailored with the following points in mind:

  • To fulfill the gaps between the level of exiting EMS and the target to be achieved
  • Specific/individual requirements of the departments, and
  • Changed to suit the culture of the organisation.


This paper presented the experiences of four Australasian companies that have implemented and/or certified with the EMS/ISO 14001. The interviews explored the role played by the top management, employees and suppliers, as organisational stakeholders during the EMS adoption process. Increasing EMS implementation and certification is becoming a prerequisite for survival within the construction industry. Due to the project-based nature of this sector, managers need to continually ensure that adequate measures are in place to substantially reduce and if possible totally eliminate any detrimental impact of the construction activities on the ecological environment. These measures should incorporate not only the organisation or contractor/builder itself, but also its suppliers and subcontractors. Some of the recommendations by the interviewees for a faster, smoother, effective and sustainable (in other words ‘successful’) EMS implementation included:

  • Top management’s commitment and availability of resources
  • Employee training in environmental issues and EMS; and
  • Identifying and prioritizing the aspects and impacts

It was however indicated by the interviewees that managers who are contemplating to adopt the EMS need to be careful when implementing these recommendations as modifications/changes may be required depending on each individual company’s needs, culture and maturity of the existing EMS. Future research would further explore issues such as: effectiveness of EMS implementation and certification for the construction companies (except when applying for government tenders). How managers are facing the challenge of continually re-training their employees, especially the contract workers and how successful this training has been in complying with their EMS also needs to be explored.


AS/NZS ISO14001:2004 (2004), Australian/New Zealand Standard: Environmental Management Systems - Requirements with guidance for use, Standards Australia, Australia.

CCF (2001), Environmental Management System, Civil Contractors Federation, Victoria, Australia (

Kartam, N., Al-Mutairi, N., Al-Ghusain, I., and Al-Humoud, J. (2004), Environmental Management of Construction and Demolition Waste in Kuwait, Waste Management, Vol. 24, No. 10, pp.1049-1059.

Kelly, J. (2001), Australian Government: Building and Construction Industry Boost, M2 Presswire, pp. 1.

Matt, P. (2000), International Market Insight Reports: Australia: Construction Industry Survey, International Market Insight Reports, New York.

Minchin, N. (2001), Australian Government: Strong Future for Construction Industry, M2 Presswire, pp. 1.

Miozzo, M. and C. Ivory (2000), Restructuring in the British Construction Industry: Implications of Recent Changes in Project Management and Technology, Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp.513-531.

Schultze, K. (1999), Australian Government: Action Agenda is Blueprint for Building and Construction Industries, M2 Presswire, pp.1-2.

Zantanidis, S. and G. Tsiotras (1998), Quality Management: A New Challenge for the Greek Construction Industry, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, Vol. 9 No. 7, pp.619-632.

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