University of Tasmania

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Demonstrating the benefits of environmental management systems in agriculture

posted on 2023-05-26, 00:41 authored by Carruthers, G
An environmental management system (EMS) is a management process designed to address systematically the environmental impacts of any entity. The process utilises a risk-based assessment of issues, focusing on continual improvement using data generated by the system. The best-known codification of EMS is the international Standard, ISO 14001. Ratified in 1996, and arguably applicable to any industry, this Standard was initially used in agriculture in 1997. This thesis considers the potential and actual outcomes of EMS use in agriculture. A multi-methods approach (involving case studies, document analysis, participant observation, reflection, and key informant interviews) was used to determine the benefits of EMS use and barriers to implementation. Firstly, 40 case studies of adoption of EMS by farmers were conducted to assess the applicability of EMS to the agricultural context. A subsequent study compared the outcomes, costs, benefits, behaviours and practices between 17 EMS users and 23 non-users. These studies indicated that EMS use conferred diverse benefits, and that EMS users differed in some ways to non-users. The benefits of EMS use were considered further, specifically the potential to assess outcomes using commonly recognised sustainability indicators, and for EMS to act as an integrative management tool. The implications of conceptualising EMS as an innovation and the role of elements of EMS in encouraging adoption of other innovations were then considered. Finally, the potential of EMS to promote social and cultural change was examined. The research revealed that the EMS process was very useful to agriculture and easily implemented on-farm with minimal changes to the way in which EMS was typically applied. Using EMS provided farmers with a flexible tool to deal with a diverse range of intra- and extra-business considerations. Importantly, EMS gave a transparent and credible link to the information desired by natural resource management agencies. The EMS process enhanced and embedded innovation, while also being an innovation in itself. Most importantly, the EMS process strengthened change in social domains, leading to a culture shift in thinking about environmental and business management, increasing communications and interactions, and embedding and reinforcing change in practices. EMS use provided diverse outcomes across the triple bottom line spectrum, providing a powerful mechanism to achieve policy, environmental, business and social outcomes. Despite the benefits of EMS use in agriculture, however, total adoption remains low. The use and applicability of EMS in agriculture could be greatly enhanced by clearer government policy and support. Other issues include clarity around the implementation of the various components of EMS, recognition of the scope and context in which the EMS process is used, mechanisms to encourage adoption, and the development of well-trained and knowledgeable EMS facilitators. Recommendations for addressing these issues are provided and implications of this thesis for future research are discussed.


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