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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

EMS - Environmental Management Integrated into all Operational Areas

ACTEW Corporation, which provides electricity, water and sewage treatment in the ACT, is required by legislation to conduct its operations in compliance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD). Under that same legislation, environmental protection is given equal importance to operating efficiently and maximising returns on investment. So for ACTEW, environmental management is integral to all operations, not just an add-on.

Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra
An Environmental Management Plan and Environmental Action Program lie at the heart of ACTEW’s approach to environmental management. ACTEW’s environmental management system (EMS) is a management tool to help ensure that the Corporation carries out the environmental program it has set for itself.

Headquartered in Canberra, ACTEW has about 880 employees. It was corporatised in 1995 and operates electricity and water distribution systems, a major sewage treatment plant, water supply dams and reservoirs. It is also developing a telecommunications network, household photovoltaic systems and projects for reuse of treated wastewater. Many of these activities have effects on the environment, so ACTEW has to use careful planning and conscientious implementation of its EMS to meet its operational objectives.

Overview of the Process Used to Develop the EMS

ACTEW, as a corporatised, Government owned utility is accountable to the community. Its many and varied day-to-day processes have both real, and potential, environmental impacts greater than those of most other organisations in the ACT. Many of its diverse activities are very visible to the public, ensuring that ACTEW works hard at maintaining its reputation as a good corporate citizen. These imperatives motivated ACTEW to develop an effective environmental management system.

Basic Process:
Development of ACTEW’s Corporate EMS followed preparation of a detailed Environmental Management Plan, which provided commitment to policy goals, directions and priorities and identified some longer-range planning issues. The Plan covered the five-year period from 1995 to 2000. It was published and made widely available in a 67-page booklet. The EMS incorporated the five-year Plan and its annual derivative, ACTEW’s Environment Action Program, which are based on the framework set out in ISO 14001.

Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre
Initial efforts of providing EMS coverage to ACTEW sites resulted in ISO 14001 certification to three key areas: the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre (ACTEW’s sewage treatment plant), the Logistics Branch, and the Engineering Services Branch. Consultants assisted ACTEW in its work on the initial three sites, travelling among the sites to help conduct audits and identify environmental aspects. Later EMS development for additional sites was done mainly by in-house staff.

Environmental aspects identified ranged from the large scale, such as the sewage treatment plant discharge and potential breaks in dam walls or bulk water mains, to the relatively small, such as run-off from vehicle wash bays, management of tailings during digging of trenches and oil spills.

EMS preparation for the first three ACTEW sites was part of an Australia-wide pilot program run by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ). The aim of this program was to allow a select group of organisations such as NATA and Det Norske Veritas to become accredited auditors for ISO 14001. By being part of this pilot program, ACTEW’s three sites were amongst the initial 11 to be ISO 14001 certified in Australia.

Senior management was actively involved in EMS development. It provided resources and gave leadership to the effort.

Staff Involvement:
Most staff at the sites became involved in development of the EMS through drafting of procedures to meet environmental requirements. A number of factors ensure that ACTEW’s staff remain highly motivated and enthusiastic about their EMS. These include:

Supplier Involvement:
Suppliers and contractors were not involved in the development or implementation of the EMS. All contractors are given verbal advice about requirements associated with the work they will be doing. The contracts they sign specify that work will comply with the provisions of the EMS and relevant environmental legislation.

Integration with Other Systems:
At the time the EMS was developed, it built on earlier work on quality management, but the two systems were not integrated. After ISO 14001 certification, extensive work was done to integrate the procedures of the environmental management and quality systems. This took about 12 months. During that time, quality management procedures were re-written to incorporate environmental issues. The integration process was actually a major undertaking. Nevertheless, because ACTEW had already certified its operational areas to ISO 9002, it was far simpler to amalgamate ISO 14001 with these systems than it would have been to implement ISO 14001 in isolation. ACTEW believes that utilising tried and true Quality Assurance Systems to assist implementation and the overall management of an EMS is an easier undertaking than attempting to implement the two systems simultaneously.

Implementing the EMS

Every Division certified to ISO 14001 and 9002 has a full time Quality/Environment Manager. These managers are assisted by all relevant staff on a part-time basis. The Water Division has two full-time people dedicated to Quality/Environment Management. They report on these issues to the General Manager of the Division, who reports to ACTEW’s CEO.

Every Division’s EMS contains a number of quantitative targets. These are backed up by a set of appropriate performance indicators. The targets are revised annually to achieve continual improvement.

Staff Training:
Thorough training is provided so that all staff are aware of their responsibilities under the EMS. The Quality/Environment Manager provides hands-on training within the relevant facility or in the field. Field workers, particularly, are given intensive training on procedures and due diligence so that they know the consequences to the environment, to the organisation, and to themselves of causing something to go wrong. New employees are given an induction information kit containing environmental material.

A recent survey found that around 95% of staff in EMS-certified areas are fully aware of their environmental responsibilities. Overall, 89% of ACTEW staff are fully aware of those duties.

Internal audits are carried out every 12 months for every procedure covered in the EMS. These audits can take anywhere from 10 minutes to half a day, depending on the area audited. They are intended to ensure that staff are doing what the procedures require. The audits measure results against the performance indicators, and benchmarking is done between Divisions. This encourages staff to come up with new ideas to improve performance.

Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre

When the audits show a problem, relevant staff identify a corrective action or develop a new procedure. These actions are provided to management for review and comment, then returned to the relevant area for implementation. The need for corrective action is brought to notice by the people actually involved in doing the work, so there is complete ownership of changes or corrections proposed.

The Environment/Quality Manager tables corrective actions at Management Review meetings, which are held fortnightly in most areas of ACTEW. These meetings involve senior management and union representatives.

At least every six months, a public environmental forum is held to make presentations about new projects and obtain public feedback. An open invitation is extended to the public, and specific invitations are sent to environment groups. These forums generally attract between 80 to 100 people, so they provide a good opportunity to exchange ideas and get feedback.

ACTEW does not see a need to benchmark its performance against other organisations because its systems are so highly regarded that many people from both Australia and overseas consult them about what they are doing.

ACTEW’s documentation of its EMS goes well beyond that required in ISO 14001. Its Environmental Management Plan is produced with considerable public input and is made available as a public document. The Environmental Action Program, prepared each year to carry out the programs in the Plan, is also public. It lists the tasks, responsibilities, and achievements of every Division. The Environmental Management Plan and Environmental Action Program are summarised on ACTEW’s web site. The corporate Annual Report devotes substantial space to reporting on ACTEW’s environmental activities. In the future, a separate Corporate Environmental Report is likely to be produced.

In addition to these major reports, quarterly reports on progress are produced by each Division. These reports are reviewed by senior executives before being provided to the Board of Directors.

Compliance Audits.
An external body such as NATA carries out a compliance audit every six months.

Impediments to Implementation:
The greatest initial impediment to development and implementation of the EMS was lack of understanding of, and therefore enthusiasm for, the benefits of the system to the employees themselves. Concerted efforts were required to convince some staff to become involved. Resistance was overcome, however, as staff became aware that the quality and environmental systems could result in improved productivity and better working conditions. They came to realise that they could bring about positive changes by being able to have their say in the management and maintenance of the systems.



For ACTEW, certification was an integral part of developing an EMS. Carl Thompson, ACTEW’s Corporate Quality Manager, says that the EMS was certified so it would be seen as a ‘real’ system. In his view, a system that is not externally audited has the potential to decline over time.

The EMS for the first three sites was certified in June 1996. EMSs covering other areas of ACTEW have subsequently been certified in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Resources Required

The initial EMS covering three sites took three months to prepare and cost $65,000. Additional sites cost $21,500. All staff were involved in writing procedures and attending training sessions.

Certification adds about $2,500 to $3,000 per site for compliance audits every six months. ACTEW considers this a worthwhile investment.

Benefits of the EMS

ACTEW considers that good environmental management is a good business approach. Because of its reputation for an excellent EMS, it has gained considerable overseas work, particularly in the Pacific Islands.

The EMS formalises ACTEW’s approach to environmental management. It helps identify where problems are. Prior to adoption of the EMS, environmental action was corporately driven, and Divisions had to be convinced to participate. Now every Division owns its EMS and is actively involved in its implementation.

Bendora Dam

Receipt of several awards can be attributed to the implementation of the EMS. ACTEW won a Banksia Award, one of the most prestigious of corporate environmental awards. This award recognised ACTEW’s work on extracting re-useable water from sewage. ACTEW’s 1995-96 Annual Report won first prize for environmental reporting in the competition held by Annual Report Awards Inc.

Additional benefits of the EMS are improved customer satisfaction and increased staff awareness of environmental issues.

Though no large-scale financial savings have been directly attributable to the EMS, ACTEW considers that the EMS is a worthwhile investment in economic terms because it attracts new business and allows operations to be conducted more efficiently, with significantly reduced levels of risk.

Future Plans

As the EMS now covers all operational areas, the only possible expansion is to administrative areas. This may be done sometime in the future.

The excisting Environmental Management Plan covers the period from 1995 to 2000, so a new plan will be drawn up to cover future years. Updated Environmental Action Programs will be prepared each year.

Contact Information

Mr. Carl Thompson
Corporate Quality Manager
GPO Box 366
CANBERRA    ACT    2601
telephone: (02) 6248 3536
fax: (02) 6248 3377

Case study prepared: May 2000.