Department of the Environment and Water Resources, 2007
Canberra environmental performance
Balancing System and Performance Imperatives
The Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) has held certification of an ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) for its Canberra-based office tenancies since 1999. EMS provides a structured framework for addressing environmental impacts of DEH’s own operations, and is a strategic management tool for ensuring legal and policy compliance, and for the pursuit of continual performance and system improvement.
In May 2006, the department achieved certification to the revised ISO 14001:2004 standard. Since attaining initial certification in 1999, substantial environmental performance improvements and economic savings have been realised. The prospect of upgrading the EMS to the revised standard presented DEH with a number of challenges, and led to a significant reorganisation of the approach taken to managing our environmental impacts.
Having been certified for over five years, the EMS documents and procedures had become outdated and no longer accurately reflected how and when EMS activities were undertaken. Many initiatives already in place continued to deliver effective performance, though, as they relied on engineered solutions, such as automated lighting controls and improved recycling infrastructure.
In preparation for the upgrade audit, DEH commissioned a gap analysis of our EMS against the revised standard, performed by an independent specialist. The results demonstrated the need to upgrade our system-level processes, such as document control, procedures revision and strategic integration of EMS considerations into other business functions. The reduced attention to certain activities, such as regular environmental awareness training and scheduled reviews of impacts, risks and audit processes, was cited as a pivotal barrier to effective EMS development and future improvement, and had undermined the effectiveness of the EMS as a strategic management tool.
In response to these findings, the department undertook a detailed review of the entire system, from the Environmental Management Policy through to every related system procedure, process and document. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the position and importance of EMS within the organisation was rethought and reinvigorated with senior executive involvement and support. This process has aided the strategic integration of the EMS with other business systems.
A new Environmental Risk Register was developed as a central document, to capture specific information about the aspects and impacts of our operations that interact with the environment, and how we approach their control or mitigation. This document links to other system components, such as the Legal and Policy Requirement Register and Operational Controls. Key environmental risk areas were identified and involved in the development of the Environmental Risk Register, to raise awareness and generate further engagement and integration of environmental management within normal business activities. Ideally, a completely integrated EMS would involve each business area identifying and addressing the impacts of their own activities, without intensive input from an external team, in much the same way that risk assessments include OH&S considerations.
The department is now well placed to use the new procedures and system tools to instigate renewed efforts to minimise our ecological footprint, and continue to provide a leading example of responsible environmental management within the public sector.
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