During my six years as an EMS facilitator and ten years as an auditor for organic certification I have seen many different systems and many different approaches to environmental management, property management, organic management, management of certification and total systems management.
Some organisations have healthy robust systems in place, some just bumble along and react to external pressures as they arise; whether being due to market forces, financially motivated or reactions to audit compliance.
The key seems to be the systematic approach. Once there is a systematic approach all elements can be fitted into that system or the system can be expanded to include the new elements.
Once the system is set up utilising standardised templates for documents and records and the process of “plan, do check review” is understood and practised by the all team members, the system can be applied to any issue, any type of operation and/or any activity.
Environmental management can easily be integrated into the total management system, whatever approach that system takes, as long as there is an understanding of a systems approach and a will within the organisation to carry out that approach.
The following are four examples of different systematic approaches which include or have expanded upon an EMS, and the benefits that the case study organisations have found in utilising their particular system.
Custom Composts is an innovative and award winning Western Australian company producing premium composts and mulches on a large scale. Composts produced are used in over 40 different crops over a wide geographical area of Western Australia. Custom Composts play a constructive role in industry development, promoting the role that compost plays in sustainable faming systems, organic waste recycling and improved management of natural resources.
Custom Composts has developed an environmental management system that will address environmental issues for the composting operation and for the total property area.
This EMS utilises a risk assessment process developed prior to the current environmental planning process and provides a structure to implement ongoing risk assessment reviews and subsequent actions.
Other documents already in place, such as management structure, vision statements and various procedures and work instructions are reviewed and updated as part of the EMS development.
Version control, links and cross referencing have been implemented as part of the systematic approach.
Custom Composts currently holds organic certification for three compost products as allowed inputs for organic farms. Custom Composts EMS allows easy verification of compliance to the Australian Organic and Biodynamic Standard especially 3.4.1 which states that “Operators must include landscape management and biodiversity within organic/biodynamic management planning.”
The systematic approach, which includes regular internal review, means that documents needed to verify activities at the organic audit event will be easy to find, up to date and complete.
The EMS includes or links to
Custom Composts Director Dave Cullen states “the work done on prevention is a lot less than the work needed to deal with an event or incident.”
By the use of a systematic approach the Environmental Management System is an integral, integrated part of the total management system. The system will expand as time allows to address issues related to all areas of management including several potential certifications.
What started as a small retirement project for Errol and Irma Seymour, on their property in Bridgetown, has grown into a thriving business supplying frozen berries and processed berry and fruit products to local, national and international outlets.
The 217acre property is managed by fencing in 20 acres of production area with rabbit and kangaroo proof fencing and leaving the majority of the property as natural bush. Regeneration is encouraged by planned mosaic burns and specific area revegetation. Production is managed by forward planning prior to each season, plus soil testing, and water monitoring for quality and supply. Fire prevention strategies are in place. These elements were all developed over time utilizing a BestFarms EMS to plan, record and monitor progress. Once the primary production was established Errol turned his attention to developing a state of the art processing facility for value adding his own and other certified organic produce.
Drovers Rest has held BestFarms certification for several years. BestFarms audits are now carried out in conjunction with audits for organic certification. One record keeping system has the ability to provide verification for both environmental and organic standard requirements. Errol believes that an approach incorporating quality management, environmental impacts and HACCP into one system is possible. He is currently working with a consultant to build HACCP into his management system, and also looking at incorporating an accredited carbon reduction scheme into the integrated management system. These efforts have been recognized by two national awards, a National Landcare award and an award for the EMS.
Errol and Irma are proud of the independent recognition for their environmental achievements and have come a long way since recognising the benefits of planning for the environmental management for the property. At that time they felt the EMS process helped identify issues and gave them the confidence to move forward on projects for property and business improvement.
Now the EMS is used to verify compliance with certification and as method of checking that all environmental issues are being managed effectively. Errol states “We hope to use this independent recognition more in our marketing, as customers become more focused on products with green credentials”.
Drovers Rest, trading as the Organic Fine Food Company, continue to be nominated for local and national awards, the most recent success being winner in two categories of the 2009 Australasian Food Challenge Awards for their popular KidSnak product.
The Skraha Family is made up of two generations of couples farming the one broadacre property, Pine Ridge Estate, situated between Boyup Brook and Kojonup. From 1997 a 45 acre vineyard has been gradually developed to diversify farming options and provide additional income, given the uncertainty of markets for sheep and grain. The vineyard includes several red and white grape varieties. 10% of the grapes produced are processed to finished product and marketed as Wild Orchid Wines by the family enterprise. This marketing includes manning stands at local events, providing tastings and information, as well as active participation in the regional industry group, the Blackwood Valley Wine Industry Association.
Robyn and Orest Skraha have completed an EMS for the broadacre operation and Kirsten and Brad Skraha have developed a complimentary EMS for the vineyard. The EMS was used to “set the scene”, recording past achievements as well as current developments. The process was a useful tool in communication between the family members and provides a written record of achievements as well as a list of actions to be undertaken, jointly or by one family member. The EMS covers both farming activities and management of the non-productive areas on the property.
The Skraha’s are looking forward to the completion and implementation of the wine industry’s National Environmental Accreditation, Entwine, as they are well placed to achieve environmental certification once this framework is available.
Bonking Frog vineyard is nestled in a bend of the Preston River north of Boyanup on the SouthWest Highway, Western Australia. The owners, Phil and Julie Hutton, have developed a merlot vineyard on the river flat, managing variable soil types, water quality and supply, and other issues such as rubbish dumping. The Bonking Frog wine range includes an award winning merlot and an innovative summer merlot with a frog theme firmly entrenched. Inspired by the endemic real frogs on the property there is a model frog supplied with each wine dozen sold. Phil and Julie undertook the BestFarms EMS planning process as a fee-for-service because they want to incorporate environmental management as part of the total operation and felt the expense of external facilitation was justified by the lessons learned and the ongoing support they would receive.
Julie and Phil had developed Bonking Frogs vineyard to a certain point and were already making wines with a contract winemaker when they undertook the EMS process. Julie thought that the process would be useful to record and formalise the business and provide a step into the next stage of development. The EMS was used to record past achievements, and to plan for current and potential issues, and integrated naturally into the total business management.
For example, records of activities are used to meet regulatory requirements for primary production, processing, liquor licensing and other elements of the business, and the Hutton’s can prove that their management techniques improve soil and grape quality and do not impact negatively on the wider environment.
Julie says that while she finds that maintaining the written EMS is not always easy the lessons learnt in the initial EMS process assist her thinking as she plans not just for environmental issues but also for marketing and sales of the final product.
The planning process itself (determining objectives and targets, developing actions, monitoring and corrective actions) is applied to the total business activities as needed, including the development of onsite storage and tasting facilities. Environmental issues will also be incorporated into information and education that Julie hopes to provide once the operation is completed and self sufficient.
The Hutton’s believe that the foundations laid by the EMS process will be of use for environmental and/or organic certification when they are ready to take that step for their production and finished product.
The four examples above demonstrates a diversity of reasons for developing an EMS, different approaches to EMS and several potential benefits for integrating EMS into the total management systems. All four organisations have committed to working in a systematic way and all have built a system that meets their practical needs. It is also worth noting that all four organisations had assistance to build their system and continue to seek assistance to maintain the system. For the benefits that a systematic approach will bring it seems there needs to be a financial and cost outlay not only to build the system but a recognition and acceptance of the ongoing cost and time needed to maintain the system.
BestFarms – www.bestfarms.com.au
Drovers Rest – www.organicfinefood.com.au
Bonking Frogs – www.bonkingfrog.com.au
Wild Orchid Wines – www.wildorchidwines.com.au
Blackwood Valley Wine Industry Association – www.blackwoodvalleywines.asn.au
Custom Composts – www.customcomposts.com.au
Entwine – www.entwine.com.au