Words and Pictures

with Elizabeth Walton

Building relationships in environmental management


ACF’s Sustainable Industries Office

Environmental accountability. Two words guaranteed to cause alarm. Are you one of those SME managers who thinks ISO14001 certification is a waste of time? Perhaps it’s time for you to think again. ISO14001 offers many opportunities to enhance your production efficiency and marketing opportunities. And many of these benefits can be achieved without pursuing full certification.

It is not very hard to find an SME manager who has no idea where to start when it comes to environmental management. What is harder to find is an SME manager who understands the benefits to be gained from doing so.

Managers often know they are expected to improve their environmental performance, yet feel completely daunted by the complexity of the task. When some managers hear the words ‘Environmental Management System’ they duck for cover. Large corporations, such as Alcoa, Hotel Intercontinental and News Limited make immense savings from improved environmental management – and at the same time they avoid fines for environmental mismanagement. Major companies can afford to explore environmental management – SMEs often can’t.Yet SMEs have no opportunity to plead for leniency when it comes to liabilities. They still face the same penalties, still must suffer the consequences of environmental mismanagement, and burden themselves with the costs of fines and corrective measures. This can lead those in industry to a point where they are disillusioned with government expectations and pressures from environmentalists.

In an unusual endeavour, industry, government and environmentalists have come together to present a training program which will simplify the complexities of environmental management. Under an initiative called FORSITE (For Sustainable Industries and The Environment), 3M Australia and the Sustainable Industries Office of the Australian Conservation Foundation will present a training program designed to assist SMEs. 3M will sponsor FORSITE for two years, by funding the training program and a national conference on sustainable development. The training will explore the day to day realities of implementing an environmental management system, by drawing on the experiences of Australia’s most highly qualified environmental practitioners, as well as the experience of 3M Corporation, a company which is still benefiting from an environmentalmanagement system it introduced 25 years ago.

FORSITE represents a departure from the traditional approach to liaising between industry and environment. Director of the Sustainable Industries Office Di Dibley says instead of arguing about who is expected to do what, environmentalists and industry can work together, by sharing common goals. “It’s not the politics of confrontation. It’s about supporting people through change, and recognising where changes need to be made – and actually creating opportunities for change and facilitating them.” After all, she says, sustainability of industry can’t exist without sustainability of the environment.

The training examines key competency areas of an environmental management system. There are many tools which can be used, including environmental accounting, change management, and aligning the environmental system of the company with a well focused business strategy. Participants will be encouraged to openly discuss problems unique to their industry. 3M introduced the world’s first corporate environmental business program in 1975. Since then the company has learnt many valuable lessons, including how to increase dividends and other benefits to the company, through environmental best practice. Richard Wallace of 3M Australia says it is often difficult for small business to enter the fray. “It’s very hard, because they don’t have the resources, or the infrastructure. This is a way for business, the so called green movement, and the Government to join forces and lend a helping hand”, he said.

In a deregulated market, government will always look towards industry to set its own standards, and solve its own problems. FORSITE shows how effective industry lead activism can be. The Federal Minister for Environment’s industry advisor Jennifer Scott says industry is now regulating itself. “What we like to see is industry being ahead of government – coming to us with ideas for change.” Companies who already bear quality assurance certification will find much of the preparation for ISO 14001 was covered in their preparation for the 9000 series. If they decide to pursue full certification, the task might not be nearly as difficult as it appears at the outset. An environmental management system is a comprehensive and flexible management tool, which offers industry an opportunity to secure its own future by minimising its environmental impact. And, as Di Dibley says: “It’s important for industry not to miss this opportunity through ignorance.”

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