Environment industries archive
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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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.
The University of Queensland is the first university in Australia, possibly in the world, to achieve certification of an Environmental Management System (EMS) under ISO 14001. Its Property and Facilities Division received joint certification for EMS and Quality systems. The University's positive attitude towards its EMS is typified by the observation of the Director of the Properties and Facilities Division: ‘The EMS is something we want to do, not something we have to do." In his view, ‘we have to keep people’s interest in the EMS. It shouldn’t be hard work or people will get tired of it.’
Universities are complex places, more like cities than typical companies. The University of Queensland has over 50 sites including three campuses, with buildings covering more than 334,000 square metres, 28,000 students, and 5,000 staff. It contains lakes, gardens, buildings, roads, sewage treatment plants, as well as kitchens and cafeterias, veterinary facilities, laboratories, vehicles and garages, an incinerator, offices and lecture halls. This complexity means that the EMS covers an incredibly wide range of activities. In addition to the physical complexity, universities also have three separate populations — students, academic staff, and administrative staff — as well as visitors. To be effective, the EMS has to provide links between the activities of all these groups.
One of the secrets of success of the University’s EMS is that, despite the complexity of its coverage, those involved in managing the EMS aim to keep it simple, understandable, and positive, so that people can read it easily and can identify with its aims. Another critical element in its success is that the EMS is constantly evolving and becoming more effective. A third key is that real efforts are made to ensure ownership among staff responsible for implementing the EMS.
Overview of the Process Used to Develop the EMS Rationale: The EMS at The University of Queensland evolved out of earlier Property and Facilities’ staff efforts at paper recycling. These efforts increased awareness of the potential for environmental action. This led in 1993 to preparation of an environmental strategy, called Unigreen. It involved a working party with representatives from the University, Brisbane City Council, and the then Queensland Department of Environment to increase environmental awareness throughout the University Community.
By 1995, a number of other elements converged to create a momentum towards developing and implementing an EMS. There was growing impetus towards the need for quality certification under ISO 9001 within the Property and Facilities Division. One factor was the obligation for the university to set an example for the contractors and consultants it required to be certified. A second was the passage of Queensland Environmental Protection Act (1994), which created an incentive for obtaining environmental certification because it incorporated the elements of due diligence when dealing with environmental issues.
Some staff recognised that there could be benefit in simultaneously developing systems to obtain accreditation under both ISO 9001 and 14001.
Basic Process: The University’s Environment Officer, who was studying environmental management, provided basic information about environmental management systems to the team involved in the EMS development.
The initial aim was to produce a strategic document prepared by operating staff for operating staff. To make it useful, the EMS had to be written in language that the staff could understand. The Director of Property and Facilities wanted a document that would be simple, short, and illustrated where necessary to make procedures clear. Initially the EMS operated mainly within the Property and Facilities Division.
The University adopted an environmental policy committing it to a robust environmental management program, including promoting the interchange of environmental information as well as the education of employees, students and the public.
Areas of significant impact were identified through audits of air quality, noise, wastes, water, and risks and hazards. In many cases, these audits were conducted by undergraduate engineering students, who used them as thesis topics. From the audits, priority impact areas were identified, and procedures were developed to reduce impacts. Some of the key impact areas identified were: management of wastes, particularly chemical wastes, noise and impacts from construction.
Very gradually, coverage of the EMS was extended beyond Property and Facilities to other departments. Awareness of the requirements of the new Queensland Environmental Protection Act was somewhat slow because many departments did not recognise that the Act affected them. This situation changed when there were incidents — such as odour complaints from research activities at one of the campuses — that brought in the EPA. Such incidents heightened awareness that the University could be subject to severe fines and penalties for breaches of environmental performance. Departments then began to recognise that the Property and Facilities Division could assist them in developing systems to minimise environmental risk.
An EMS Project Control Group was set up, involving Executive Deans from three departments, as well as the Property and Facilities Division and the Occupational Health and Safety Unit.
The EMS is premised on the principle of continuous improvement. Best practice procedures are to be used, and with time, these procedures are improved, redefining best practice.
Staff, Student involvement: Students are involved in the development and implementation of the EMS both as stakeholders, through Student Union representation, and as researchers, looking, for example, at pollution in lakes. Student research projects help extend limited resources of environmental staff, and provide training and skills that help the students gain outside employment. Use of students also helps to forge links between academic and administrative staff.
Staff involved in processes with potential environmental impacts wrote the procedures designed to minimise those impacts. At present, they are active participants in rewriting the environmental procedures manual. This involvement is intended to pass ownership of the EMS to affected departments. Integration with Other Systems: Although the EMS was designed to cover the University as a whole, the quality management system applies only to the Property and Facilities Division. Within that Division, the two systems are integrated. This integration was done after certification of the systems.
Many departments have workplace health and safety programs and procedures in place. Gradually, these departments are beginning to incorporate relevant information from the EMS into their safety systems.
Implementing the EMS
The Environmental Engineer and two other staff of Environmental Services, handle the day-to-day operation of the EMS.
Reports on implementation of the EMS are provided to the Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor and Environmental Management Committee every three months. These reports cover EMS implementation, environmental licenses and specific environmental issues that require continued monitoring or direction from the University management.
Although staff involved in activities that have a high potential for impact are well aware of their responsibilities under the EMS, some students, academic and administrative staff may still be unaware of these requirements.
The University of Queensland, unlike many other organisations, assigns responsibilities for OH&S and the EMS to separate Divisions. It is the University’s policy to clearly separate issues involving buildings from those involving people.
Targets: The EMS has targets that are reviewed every year and updated.
These targets are set to achieve the goals and objectives identified in the University’s Environment policy. Some examples of the types of targets identified for 1999/2000 include:
Staff Training: It is critical that all relevant staff and students understand the procedures that they are to follow to ensure protection of the environment. To achieve this, staff are given basic training in implementation of the procedures in the EMS that apply to them. In addition, some department staff are trained as EMS internal auditors, so they can monitor procedures in their own and other departments. Information for students is included in the information packs they receive during orientation week. Contractors are also provided with awareness training.
The Property and Facilities Division has also developed an electronic system that provides staff with information at their desks.
The Division’s Director says that it is important to ensure that ‘information overload’ does not occur. If people are overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive, they will regard the EMS as a burden, not an opportunity.
Monitoring: Internal auditors monitor compliance with excisting targets, regulatory standards and guidelines through regular technical audits. These are carried out about every 9 to 12 months, depending on the results of the previous audit. Progress is measured by comparing audit results with those found in the previous audit. An audit takes about three weeks to complete, including time for sample analysis and report preparation.
Results of internal technical audits are stored on the database of the environmental staff, and are reported to senior management annually. They are used as the basis for preparation of action plans.
Between audits, problems are usually identified through reports or complaints by staff or members of the community.
Documentation: The University of Queensland publishes a highly readable and illustrated Environmental Management Report every year. The report describes progress on the EMS, objectives and targets, environmental performance, other environmental activities, and future directions. This report provides both the university community and the public with the opportunity to remain fully aware of the University’sUniversityís environmental actions.
Compliance Audits: External auditors carry out an annual audit to ensure compliance with the requirements of ISO 14001 certification.
Impediments to Implementation: The only real barrier to full implementation of the EMS is lack of awareness. With such a large and ever-changing population of students and research staff, it is inevitable that someone will occasionally pour an inappropriate chemical down a laboratory sink or take other unacceptable action. Environmental staff are reluctant to use a ‘big stick’ approach, preferring to use awareness training, involvement of laboratory managers in EMS oversight, and increased departmental ownership of the EMS to minimise such incidents.
Certification under ISO 14001 was granted to the University of Queensland in October 1996. At the same time, the Property and Facilities Division received certification under ISO 9001.
The Director of the Property and Facilities Division cites a number of benefits of formal certification. He says certification ‘keeps us on our toes.’ People work harder towards the goal. Annual external auditing ensures that the system is fully implemented and continuously improved. The Environmental Engineer reports that certification helps the University in its relations with the EPA: ‘The EPA is aware that the University is certified, so they let the University resolve its own environmental issues.’
The cost of achieving and maintaining certification is seen as a small cost in the context of the overall operating budget of the Property and Facilities Division ($21 million per year) or the University ($361 million per year).
The cost of developing the EMS is estimated at $78,000, including $7,000 for certification. Ongoing costs to maintain the EMS and certification are estimated at $54,000 per year. These costs reflect expenditure by the Properties and Facilities Division, and do not include the time spent by a substantial number of people in academic departments.
Benefits of the EMS
The University of Queensland obtains a wide range of benefits from having an EMS.
Less onerous regulatory requirements of the EPA have reduced paperwork, resulting in financial savings. The approval time for EPA licenses has decreased dramatically because a procedure for applying for licenses exists, and it ensures that all information required by the EPA is supplied at the time of application. This has almost completely eliminated the delays on decisions that resulted from requests for additional information. The detailed procedures in the EMS provide better proof of compliance and have led to improved relations with environmental regulators.
Major changes in the collection, transport and disposal of chemical wastes have led to major cost savings. Better separation of clinical wastes from other wastes has reduced disposal costs.
While cost savings are the driver for most improvements, these savings generally go hand in hand with environmental and OH&S benefits. One project implemented under the EMS is the consolidation of chemical stores, from eight stores a few years ago, to one store today. This lowers costs and also greatly improves safety. The total redevelopment of the waste management system both saves money and provides improved environmental outcomes.
The existence of an EMS with detailed procedures for dealing with incidents means that when a problem is found — such as leaking refrigerant from air conditioning plant — staff know exactly how to handle the issue. What could have been a crisis can be dealt with in a routine manner. The EMS also reduces potential for untoward incidents that might have resulted in liability costs.
The University is constantly trying to find ways to reduce its environmental impact, particularly when potential changes will result in cost savings. Feedback boxes allow all Property and Facilities staff to suggest new initiatives, and the rest of the University community can give feedback through an email system. All initiatives are considered, and they are implemented if worthwhile. Funds are usually readily available to make investments that will result in improved compliance and environmental outcomes along with cost savings.
Staff at the University have a real sense of pride about their achievement in developing and implementing the EMS.
As part of its EMS program, the University has an approved 10-year plan for extending coverage to all high risk and high profile sites. There are 52 sites encompassed by the University, so developing and implementing detailed environmental management systems for all sites can only be accomplished over a period of time.
As the EMS is implemented, further improvements to performance will be made, with new targets set each year.
Mr. Alasdair McClintock
Properties and Facilities
The University of Queensland
telephone: (07) 3365 2794
fax: (07) 3365 1555