Table Of Contents

Towards a National Framework for the Development of Environmental Management Systems in Agriculture


A public discussion paper prepared by the Environmental Management Systems Working Group

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Natural Resource Management Standing Committee Discussion Paper November 2001

Membership of the Environmental Management Systems Working Group

State/Territory Organisation


Independent Chair

Len Banks

Tasmanian Dept of Primary Industries, Water & Environment

Liz Bond, Michael Hart

South Australian Department of Primary Industries & Resources

Elliot Dwyer

New South Wales Department of Agriculture

John Fisher

Agriculture Western Australia

Ross George, Miles Dracup

Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry & Fisheries

Annie Lane, Bryan Walsh

Victorian Department of Natural Resources & Environment

Murray McIntyre, Chris McRae

Queensland Department of Primary Industries

Russell Reynolds, Peter Johnston

Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry – Australia (AFFA) Secretariat (AFFA)

Philippa Rowland, Rowan Wylie, Dianne Deane, Lionel Wood, Mark Pringle, Lesley Rogers

CSIRO Land & Water (Commonwealth)

Mike Young, Thea Mech

New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry

Irene Parminter


The Environmental Management Systems Working Group was established in May 2000 by the Sustainable Land and Water Resources Management Committee (SLWRMC) of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management (SCARM). Its task has been to identify the role of government in facilitating environmental management systems (EMS) in agriculture and the outcomes sought by government from future initiatives. The working group comprised representatives from State, Territory and Federal agencies, and from New Zealand 1

The working group has developed a framework that aims to facilitate EMS adoption across industries and regions, and to integrate activity across industry sectors. It believes that such adoption and integration will make a significant contribution to improving sustainability in agricultural production and in meeting community expectations of environmental, social and economic outcomes. A secondary aim is to encourage the appropriate linkages with existing supply chains to obtain the maximum trade and market advantages from efforts to improve natural resource management. This document represents a starting point for developing a framework for EMS in Australian agriculture and the working group invites stakeholder input to progress it.

Primary producers may adopt EMS for diverse reasons: to improve profits and protect their local environment; to be more sustainable; to differentiate their products; to gain better access to markets and natural resources; and to reduce environmental and financial risks. Given that primary producers are the `adopters' of EMS, industry's ownership of EMS arrangements and, therefore, industry's participation in the process of framework development, is vital. For this reason, the working group recognises the need for government, industry and the community to work in partnership to develop an agreed and workable framework. Moreover, input from industry and regional stakeholders will assist in identifying appropriate roles for governments in supporting and coordinating the voluntary adoption of EMS in Australian and New Zealand agriculture.

Len Banks
Environmental Management Systems Working Group


Towards a National Framework for the Development of Environmental Management Systems in Agriculture 1

A public discussion paper prepared by the Environmental Management Systems Working Group 1

Foreword 3


1. What is an EMS and how does it work? 6

1.1 How does a landholder develop an EMS? 6

1.2 Gaining recognition for an EMS 8

1.3 Aim of this public discussion paper 9

2. Why adopt an EMS? 10

2.1 Natural resource management and environmental improvement 10

2.2 Social objectives (landholder and community values) 11

2.3 Competitiveness objectives (better prices, lower costs, more efficient production) 12

3. Linkages 13

3.1 How does an EMS link with other on-farm environmental activities? 14

3.2 How does an EMS link with other on-farm management or record-keeping processes? 14

3.3 How does an EMS link with regional/catchment planning processes? 15

3.4 Activities or information to assist development or implementation of an EMS 15

4. Principles 16

5. The proposed framework 18

5.1 Aim of the framework proposed for developing EMSs in agriculture 18

5.2 The scope of the proposed EMS framework 19

5.3 Application of the framework at various scales 20

5.4 Market and supply-chain features of EMSs for agriculture 25

6. How can governments help? 26

6.1 Outcomes sought by governments from EMSs 27

6.2 Potential areas where governments could play a role 27

6.3 Incentives 27

6.4 Improved communication 30

6.5 Suggested criteria for government involvement 30

Appendix 1. Glossary of terms used in the report 33

List of tables

1. Framework proposed for the development of environmental
management systems (EMSs) in agriculture 20

2. Five areas in which governments could play a role in environmental
management systems (EMSs) for agriculture 30

List of figures

1. The continuous improvement cycle: the foundation for an
environmental management system 6

2. Framework from the perspective of a multipurpose landholder 22

3. Supply chain links in the framework 26

List of boxes

1. EMSs in context 7

2. Beneficiaries of EMSs 10

3. EMS activity in Australia 11

4. A New Zealand perspective on EMSs 12

5. Overseas EMS activities 13

6. Advice for Australian growers wishing to improve market access 25

7. EMS Navigator -- a tool for EMS in Australian Agriculture 32

1. What is an EMS and how does it work?

`Environmental management system' (EMS) is a generic term used to describe any systematic approach used by an enterprise or organisation to manage its impacts on the environment. The system identifies environmental impacts and legal responsibilities, then implements and reviews changes and improvements in a structured way. An EMS provides a management framework that achieves continuous improvement through a `plan, do, check, act' cycle (see Figure 1) within which best management practices can be integrated, and codes of practice upheld. An EMS can be externally audited and may be certified to the international, ISO 14001 standard. An EMS may also be readily integrated with other existing activities such as quality assurance.

Figure 1. The continuous improvement cycle: the foundation for an environmental management system (EMS).

1.1 How does a landholder develop an EMS?

The first step in adopting an EMS on your farm would be to conduct an environmental review to identify the full range of environmental values and assess the significant impacts of farming operations on the environment. You would then assess the significance of those environmental impacts and establish your priorities for action, taking into account regional and catchment targets in your area (see Figure 2 on page 22).

Developing an environmental policy for your farm involves setting objectives and targets, and documenting them in a simple statement of intent for your farm or enterprise. You would identify your legal obligations and any minimum requirements set by your industry/region. You would also set out the ways in which you plan to monitor your progress over time. You would then move to the action phase, carrying out what you have judged to be the most important changes to improve environmental management on your farm or enterprise.

Box 1. EMSs in context

Australian governments have taken several major initiatives on natural resource management in recent years. Following the end of the Decade of Landcare, there was widespread discussion around Australia seeking to develop a strategic national framework capable of responding to emerging environmental challenges. ‘Managing Natural Resources in Rural Australia for a Sustainable Future’ recognised the need to apply policy approaches in an integrated way across regions and catchments and at the local and farm levels. A more recent outcome was the ‘National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality’, which builds on the work started by the Natural Heritage Trust, the Murray–Darling Basin Commission, State and Territory strategies and the Council of Australian Governments’ Water Reform Agenda.

It is well recognised that sound management of natural resources is critical to the long-term economic viability and environmental sustainability of agriculture, and for community wellbeing. While governments have the capacity to regulate to protect natural resources and the environment, there is increasing interest in, and action towards, developing partnerships with landholders1, industry and the wider community to achieve these aims.

There is much that primary producers can do, and are doing, to promote environmental performance and quality assurance in agriculture. They may choose to implement an environmental management system (EMS) or other voluntary environmental management arrangements such as codes of practice and best management practice (BMP) guidelines, or to participate in any of a number of environmental certification and labelling initiatives. Voluntary approaches to food quality and safety include quality management systems, hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP)-based safety plans, SQF2000, and a range of codes of practice and BMPs addressing quality assurance (QA), food safety and animal welfare. Here we are concerned with developing a mechanism to facilitate natural resource management outcomes and encourage the use of environmental management systems as a powerful tool for improving management of environmental impacts. Consumers around the world are increasingly demanding evidence that their food is safe and that agricultural commodities are produced ethically and in a manner that has not harmed the environment. Many retailers require their suppliers to have been third-party audited, and have HACCP-based safety plans in place, and some are now seeking assurances that production practices are environmentally benign.

Consequently, there is growing interest from rural industries, consumers and governments in the potential for environmental management systems to provide an internationally credible mechanism for safeguarding trade and improving the sustainability of agricultural production. EMSs are an especially valuable tool because they are voluntary, flexible and encourage activity beyond compliance. The majority of landholders already fulfil their legal obligations and are moving towards a duty of care required by legislation or industry codes of practice. An EMS will help prepare them to meet current and future challenges, whether imposed by governments through regulation, by consumers through market preferences, or by communities concerned about their local environment.

1 The term ‘landholders’ is used throughout this discussion paper to include all farmers, pastoralists, horticulturalists and others engaged in making a living from the land.

Once your system is in place, you can pause and take stock. You can review your management actions and, if needs be, take corrective action to improve or modify your activities, embarking on the cycle of continuous improvement that could help lift the efficiency of your operations at the same time as reducing impacts on the environment.

On the way through, you would document your key actions and keep the records needed to inform future actions and provide evidence of your efforts to manage the environment. These records may include spray diaries, crop rotations, drenching details etc. and may provide information needed for your quality assurance (QA) system as well as your EMS. Documentation of activities and outcomes will help you to track your progress over time, as well as providing evidence for any `clean and green' marketing claims you might wish to make. It will also enable you to have your system independently audited and certified to the international standard, ISO 14001, if you choose to do so.

An EMS can build on existing procedures such as QA and production certification to provide an overarching management tool for achieving goals of sustainability and competitiveness, and may lead to overall improvement in management and marketing performance.

An EMS applied at an enterprise or individual property level can also contribute to environmental outcomes at the industry and regional level. The EMS framework proposed here will seek to provide the links between on-farm EMSs and environmental objectives for agriculture at the regional scale. This will help individual efforts to align with regional targets and contribute to larger scale environmental outcomes.

Components of EMS are very straightforward—record keeping, spray drift management—things I’d always said I’d get around to doing and now have done. The system has provided me with the discipline to encourage me to actually do it. The external audit was an important driver. The other benefit is the ability to work towards progress in stages.

Grain farmer, Liverpool Plains

1.2 Gaining recognition for an EMS

Landholders can maximise the value they get from adopting an EMS by seeking recognition for their system through a process of audit and certification. The most credible form of external recognition involves engaging a third-party auditor to review and certify the EMS against the requirements of the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand.

Alternatively, landholders may seek to be audited by peer review (second-party auditing) by trained industry auditors. Then again, they may not seek certification at all, but decide to use an internal audit and review process for self-assessment. It is always possible to begin with self-assessment and later choose to be independently audited with a view to certification. These are decisions that remain with the landholders and industries.

For their part, governments could help by encouraging streamlined auditing and certification services, and by encouraging the potential for common audits of several processes. Governments can seek to reduce complexity and duplication (and associated costs for landholders) through discussions with certification bodies. Governments also have a strong interest in ensuring the developments in EMSs are internationally compatible and credible, and so have a preference for encouraging consistency with the ISO 14001 international standard. Various rating and reward systems are emerging for environmental performance and there are concerns that a proliferation of such schemes may reduce their credibility.

1.3 Aim of this public discussion paper

The EMS working group recognises that public consultation on the proposed framework and associated matters such as auditing and certification is essential for the coordinated and compatible development of Australian agricultural environment management systems. This discussion paper is thus intended to stimulate communication and consultation so that the final framework will meet the needs of all stakeholders.

The paper aims to seek community and industry views on:

  • the value of and interest in EMS in agriculture;
  • the framework proposed for the further development and coordination of EMS in agriculture, at various scales, including the farm, regional and industry scales; and
  • appropriate roles for government and industry in facilitating EMS adoption.

The framework is also proposed to assist and enhance existing industry initiatives on EMS in agriculture. Your views on appropriate roles for industry would also be useful.


Third-party certification is a powerful mechanism. But what are your views on this? What sort of recognition do you think would be valuable and what would be the best mechanisms for receiving that recognition?

2. Why adopt an EMS?

The adoption of an EMS can improve not only the management of environmental impacts but also the financial and competitive position of an enterprise. There is also a group of intangible but important outcomes associated with respect and pride within a community. The reasons for EMS adoption will vary between enterprises.

Australian primary producers know that social, economic and ecological issues all need to be addressed so that their business activities contribute to ecologically sustainable development (ESD). The social and environmental outcomes go hand in hand with the economic imperative. An EMS is a means of improving the environmental performance of Australian farms. The key objectives of the EMS reflect elements of the broader environmental concerns of the community (i.e. values that society seeks to maintain). These may include environmental objectives (e.g. conservation of soil, water, vegetation, and biodiversity), economic objectives (input/output efficiencies) and social objectives (e.g. cultural heritage and occupational health and safety matters).

Box 2. Beneficiaries of EMSs

EMS in agriculture can benefit:

  • landholders interested in sustainable management of their resources;
  • producers supplying negotiated contracts;
  • producers of value-added products;
  • producers seeking to ensure access to resources;
  • purchasers of land concerned about agricultural resource quality;
  • suppliers to markets with eco-barriers;
  • suppliers to markets paying a premium for certified eco-labelled products;
  • consumers concerned about environmental impacts of agricultural production;
  • financiers concerned about risk management;
  • communities and regions seeking improved environmental outcomes; and
  • governments seeking to achieve environmental and trade outcomes in the national interest.

The following three broad groups of drivers have led to numerous existing management initiatives that are beneficial to the environment and are seen as key drivers for EMSs:

2.1 Natural resource management and environmental improvement

An EMS may provide a valuable voluntary tool for landholders wishing to demonstrate their sound management of the environment. In some areas of Australian agriculture and resource management, some form of approval or certification is required before landholders are provided access to a resource. An example is the need for a land and water property plan to be approved before landholders can use irrigation water allocations that have been purchased or traded. The Environmental Protection Act (Qld) provides farmers with a defence from prosecution under that Act if environmental damage occurred while they were complying with an industry code of practice that has been approved under the Act. Under the Environmental Protection Act (Qld) and the Lands Act (Qld), landholders are required to exercise a `duty of care' for the land and surrounding environment.

Natural resource drivers of environmental management include:

  • access to natural resources, e.g. water;
  • environmental enhancement at local, regional, national, global levels;
  • natural resource management to retain and enhance biodiversity;
  • markets for ecosystem services;
  • increased health of natural resource systems achieved via coordinated and systematic environmental management at property and regional scales;
  • reduced impacts on neighbouring regions; and
  • public health issues.

2.2 Social objectives (landholder and community values)

Landholders and communities may gain:

  • confidence in management;
  • respect, pride and esteem from taking action to improve the environment and reduce degradation;
  • enhanced reputation as responsible environmental managers;
  • positive community feedback and improved relations with neighbours;
  • improved conflict resolution process;
  • increasing expectation that agricultural production will be sustainable;
  • recognition of the social and economic impacts of poor natural resource management decisions and unsustainable practices; and
  • progress towards meeting the growing expectation of compliance with environmental duty of care requirements.

Box 3. EMS activity in Australia

The grains, livestock, rice, sugar, cotton and wine industries are investigating EMS, as are producers of a range of horticultural commodities such as bananas, citrus, tomatoes and potatoes. Some industries with best management practices (BMP) for priority issues of concern (e.g. the cotton industry’s BMP for pesticide use) or industry codes of practice are investigating the merits of moving to a more comprehensive EMS approach that could be certified if desired. EMSs in agriculture have strong parallels with arrangements already established in fisheries and forestry, particularly the core principles, criteria and indicators developed for ecologically sustainable forest management under Regional Forest Agreements.

Regional groups in several States are also developing or intending to develop EMSs for regional branding or natural resource management purposes (e.g. Gascoyne– Murchison and Blackwood in WA, Adelaide Hills Wines Region in SA). In NSW, Coleambally Irrigation Ltd has obtained ISO 14001 certification to assure the public that it is making every effort to manage scarce water resources in a responsible manner. In a major project, the Murray–Darling Basin Commission Irrigated Issues Working Group has commissioned an investigation of the feasibility of a certification and audit approach for the Murray–Darling Basin.

2.3 Competitiveness objectives (better prices, lower costs, more efficient production)

Landholders may benefit from:

  • increased net revenue (efficiency gains);
  • improved market access (access to better market opportunities);
  • reduced costs from lower government charges (e.g. reduced licence fees);
  • increased production and/or improved quality from better information generated by the system;
  • risk reduction, which may include use of HACCP-based tools required to ensure food safety and assured outputs to meet consumer demand; and
  • reduced liabilities and/or lower insurance premiums.

There is a growing potential for banks and other lenders to promote change, for example access to capital may increasingly require assurances about sound environmental management. The finance sector in this country is beginning to acknowledge the need to formalise the criteria taken into account when assessing the impact of environmental performance on financial risk. There has also been growing interest in ethical investments that address the community concern for sustainability. Recent work on a sustainability index for the agricultural sector and to identify criteria for environmental reporting, indicates an increasing preparedness to develop public standards for determining the relationship between environmental and financial risk.

Box 4. A New Zealand perspective on EMSs

In New Zealand, the agricultural and horticultural sectors consider that EMSs should be primarily market driven, and be developed by the sector concerned. This ensures that the EMS developed is practicable for farmers/growers, as well as meeting consumer demands.

The government’s roles are seen as:

  • setting an appropriate regulatory framework;
  • facilitating networking opportunities to encourage coordination and learning from other sectors;
  • providing information, e.g. on ‘green market signals’;
  • carrying out government-to-government negotiation/assurances where required; and
  • in some cases, providing seed funding for EMS development.

Several sectors have voluntarily developed EMS-type programs, including the dairy industry (‘Market Focused’), the wine grape sector (‘Integrated Winegrape Production System’), the kiwifruit sector (‘Customer Gateway Programme’), and the pipfruit sector (‘ENZA Way’). In some sectors, compliance with the program is a prerequisite for supply to the exporter; in others, adoption is voluntary. Smaller-scale EMS programs have also been developed in New Zealand. For example, a group of southern North Island wine producers, and a diverse group of primary producers in North Otago, have both achieved group certification to ISO 14001. The New Zealand forest industry has wide adoption of EMSs, for example ‘Forest Stewardship Council’ certification. Several EMSs in New Zealand have been established for some years and are working well.

Box 5. Overseas EMS activities

The international community is moving into a phase in which certification of minimal impact of agricultural production on the environment may become as important as evidence of low chemical-residue status or other quality attributes. Interest in agricultural EMSs is also growing rapidly in Europe, North America and parts of East Asia. Increasing domestic and international interest in EMSs reflects rising consumer demand for products derived through environmentally friendly production processes.

In the United States, a multi-state working group on EMS recently considered the issue as part of the agenda in the development of the new federal Farm Bill. Several other approaches being applied to agricultural management include a European Union regulation, EMAS (Eco-management and Audit Scheme); self-assessment and action plan programs such as the UK LEAF Program (Linking Environment And Farming); the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (EFP); and the US Farm*A*Syst Program. In addition, there is increasingly widespread adoption of industry best management practices and codes of practice related to environmental management.

3. Linkages

It is essential that an EMS can be readily integrated with other management processes on farm. Landholders already maintain records to meet requirements for financial accountability, food safety, occupational health and safety, and quality assurance (QA). Typical family farms do not have the management resources to implement complex systems, and even large farms will be seeking management systems that avoid duplication.

Efforts are being made to develop options to integrate existing QA approaches with EMSs, recognising that similarities between ISO 9000 and ISO 14001 make it relatively easy, since many requirements for documentation and operational control are common, as are some of the audit procedures. There may be a role for governments to ensure that management or record-keeping systems are compatible and minimise the time demands on landholders.

A practical framework that draws effective links between EMS and other activities will enhance the potential to improve management across industries and regions. A major aim of this framework for EMSs is to consider mechanisms that will create linkages between the many processes already in train to achieve environmental and competitiveness outcomes for agriculture.

3.1 How does an EMS link with other on-farm environmental activities?

As a systems approach, the EMS can help integrate the many other management activities occurring on farms. It is a generic tool that can be used to manage a suite of environmental issues, from biodiversity conservation through to reducing greenhouse emissions. An EMS involves the identification of the full range of environmental values and assessment of significant environmental impacts; from water quality and salinity through to managing stream banks and catchment health. Any environmental or natural resource management issue can be included in an EMS. The review of environmental impacts, a first step in EMS development, should identify the environmental issues that an EMS needs to cover. Good communication between landholders and authorities responsible for regional or catchment plans will ensure that EMSs cover issues that are important to local and global communities. Governments have a role to provide information on different environmental issues so that farmers can make sound decisions on priorities and manage them in an integrated manner.

An EMS may provide a powerful tool for achieving multiple environmental outcomes.

3.2 How does an EMS link with other on-farm management or record-keeping processes?

BMPs, codes of practice and HACCP activities under various QA schemes are compatible with activities undertaken in an EMS. There is the potential to cross-link work carried out under one system to fully or partially meet requirements under another scheme. In practical terms, this means that documentation and spray records kept to meet the requirements of a quality system, such as Cattlecare or Graincare, may go part way to meet the needs of a systems approach that considers all environmental impacts arising from chemical use and storage on a property.

I did my EMS first, then looked at certification under Graincare and Cattlecare. The main elements of the systems were compatible and already picked up in the EMS, although some of the requirements for recording and site details differed. Three weeks after I’d done the EMS, it only took me four hours to change the manual to comply with Cattlecare and Graincare requirements.

Mixed enterprise farmer with certification to ISO 14001,
Graincare and Cattlecare

Other management or record-keeping activities that may be integrated within an EMS include:

  • financial records;
  • physical planning of property layout and infrastructure (property management planning);
  • occupational health and safety (OH&S) -- regulations for employee safety now require planning, training and record keeping. OH&S record keeping can be included under an EMS;
  • management plans required under various State and Commonwealth statutes -- e.g. management plans for clearing native vegetation, irrigation and drainage plans, agroforestry, threatened species recovery and intensive livestock facilities (either at development stage or to mitigate identified environmental problems). The option of integrated property management plans that would satisfy a range of statutory requirements is being considered in NSW; and
  • various statutes also require detailed record keeping, e.g. detailed records for all pesticide applications are increasingly required.

3.3 How does an EMS link with regional/catchment planning processes?

It is likely that environmental performance standards and targets will be developed collaboratively at the regional or catchment level, with input from industries, governments and the community. Development of such targets will help to ensure that EMS adoption actually contributes effectively to achieving tangible environmental outcomes.

Information provided to landholders through regional and catchment planning processes will help individuals develop their own on-farm goals and targets under their EMS. In turn, an EMS may be a valuable means of translating broad regional and catchment targets into practical on-farm actions. The monitoring and review procedures carried out as part of an EMS offer an opportunity to assess progress towards sustainability goals, given the development of appropriate indicators.

Clear links between on-farm EMSs and the monitoring and evaluation of resource conditions against targets set for salinity and vegetation (for example) will help provide rigorous evidence that improved management practices are actually contributing to positive environmental outcomes. Such links will also provide credibility to external parties interested in environmental performance.

3.4 Activities or information to assist development or implementation of an EMS

To develop or implement an EMS, a landholder needs access to appropriate information and training, the provision of which is seen as an appropriate role for governments (see Section 6), in partnership with industry.

Landholder information and training needs could include:

  • education courses dealing with EMS principles and processes;
  • reviews to assist landholders to determine and prioritise environmental effects and set objectives and targets. Determination of indicators of sustainability may be a component of an environmental audit;
  • information on mandatory legal requirements and goals set in other relevant policies and strategies including catchment or regional strategies;
  • access to resource information collected at an appropriate scale for landholders;
  • guidelines to help determine options and appropriate responses for identified environmental objectives. These would include BMP guidelines, training courses (e.g. ProGraze) and publications dealing with single issues (e.g. determining the rate of lime to treat an acid soil); and
  • guidance in monitoring and evaluation. While some indicators might need to be specific to a particular EMS, the use of generally accepted sustainability indicators is desirable where possible.


This section provided ideas for potential and actual links between EMS and other activities, and seeks your feedback on these.

4. Principles

The following principles for EMSs in agriculture are proposed to guide the increasing adoption of EMSs and to underpin the framework outlined in Section 5. Agreement on a set of guiding EMS principles is seen as a crucial step towards a common approach that avoids the difficulties that would arise from proliferation of incompatible systems.

We propose that environmental management systems in agriculture should:

1. be voluntary and industry and/or community led.

There is no move towards the compulsory development of EMSs for agriculture by the Australian or the New Zealand Government. The framework should advantage agricultural enterprises, industries and communities that have begun developing their own systems. It is important that EMSs are developed by the industries concerned, as they have the best access to information on their production system and its environmental impacts. Systems developed from the `grass roots up' rather than imposed from the `top down' are more likely to be feasible, acceptable to the sector, and widely adopted by producers and industries. Governments have other means to achieve essential environmental outcomes but an EMS provides a voluntary tool for going beyond compliance.

2. demonstrate links between competitiveness and natural resource management objectives.

EMSs in agriculture should be:

  • able to support strategic plans and initiatives associated with the pursuit of natural resource management objectives, rewarding progress that goes beyond minimum standards; and
  • compatible with, and where appropriate, reinforce and avoid compromising, market initiatives and emerging market opportunities.

This means that an on-farm EMS should be designed to contribute to and comply with existing targets set under regional and catchment plans. Success in achieving improved natural resource outcomes through a credible systems approach then has potential for improved marketing and competitiveness.

3. be simple, cost effective, user-friendly, able to be phased in at any level and provide clear advantages to the adopting enterprise.

Market drivers provide a powerful incentive for EMS adoption. However, adoption costs must be kept low, and the benefits must be clear to create the right incentives for EMS adoption. This requires the development of simple, robust systems that fit well with other management practices (e.g. health and safety, and animal welfare) and that meet market requirements for particular environmental practices or outcomes, even where multiple products are produced in the same enterprise (e.g. meat and wool). In this regard, the EMS is flexible and can be applied to a range of issues from a range of different entry levels. Participants may choose the entry level that they judge to be worth while. Other incentives for adoption may be associated with reduced natural resource management compliance costs, obtaining resource consents more easily, community approval, and a sense of personal pride and stewardship. The latter two may be reinforced by, for example, Farm Environment Awards, which publicise good environmental performance.

4. be adaptable and provide for continuous improvement.

Resource users and markets are innovative in a rapidly changing environment. Farmers in Australia produce a wide range of goods under different farming systems in diverse environments. Market trends are dynamic and trading arrangements change. For these reasons, EMSs must be flexible and achieve continuous improvement through adaptive management.

5. be consistent with existing internationally recognised systems (such as ISO 14001, EUREP GAP protocol) and be capable of independent audit.

There are several possible approaches to improving environmental management on farms. ISO 14001 is the internationally recognised standard for EMSs that can be integrated with existing management activities such as property management planning, BMP and QA. The EUREP protocol for good agricultural practice (GAP) is a set of requirements made by some European retailers as a prerequisite to entry to markets. Independent audit is a characteristic of such systems and makes them credible to consumers and others. The decision to be audited and certified is voluntary and will be driven by industry and market needs.

5. The proposed framework

The rationale for developing a framework for EMSs in agriculture is to provide a national context within which existing industry programs and growing interest in EMSs can be harnessed to best advantage to improve management and contribute to both market and environmental outcomes across industries and regions. The proposed framework will provide a means to better integrate industry activities with broader natural resource management processes such as State and regional planning, e.g. vegetation management. It will provide a context for coordinating and facilitating a range of voluntary, industry-led approaches to environmental and quality management in agriculture and seek to improve integration of these activities across different scales and across industry sectors. It aims to facilitate integration of individual landholder activities to make a significant contribution to improving the sustainability in agricultural production and to meeting community expectations of environmental, social and economic outcomes.

Rural industry recognition of the need to position its members to meet such environmental challenges is reflected in the growing level of industry activity in this area. Australian rural sectors need to position themselves well in international trade to maintain or enhance market access, in the context of World Trade Organization rules and consumer demand for environmentally friendly production. Governments are willing to provide support to assist landholders to voluntarily adopt the EMS as a tool to help industry to meet changing requirements--whether set by legislation, markets or community pressure.

5.1 Aim of the framework proposed for developing EMSs in agriculture

The proposed framework aims to provide a context within which to improve the environmental management of agriculture at farm, industry, catchment, regional, State and national scales. Other aims are:

  • to inform industry and landholder initiatives and ensure they contribute to achieving environmental objectives set at regional and catchment scales;
  • to ensure a coordinated approach to EMSs that reduces duplication;
  • to maximise the benefits to landholders;
  • to facilitate the voluntary uptake of EMSs; and
  • to encourage the development of EMSs for Australian agriculture in a consistent manner.

Encouraging appropriate linkages with existing supply-chain development will maximise the opportunity to obtain the trade and market advantages from efforts to improve natural resource management. The value of an EMS lies in improving the efficiency of on-farm resource use and address needs beyond the farm-gate, while also meshing with existing programs to improve competitiveness and sustainability.

As an active, adaptive management scheme, the framework is designed to provide consistent messages through the different industry and spatial scales and contribute to environmental, social and economic outcomes for all stakeholders. It will facilitate better information flows and improve integration between management actions by enterprises and industries and ecological processes at the landscape, catchment and regional scales. Essentially the aim of the framework is to act as a bridge between on-farm environmental management systems and the emerging initiatives for managing and reporting on natural resource management at various scales. Such links will enable farm-level EMSs to benefit and gain from government and community investment in catchment level action. Targets being set through regional and catchment planning processes will inform the setting of on-farm targets. Conversely, there is enormous potential to harness the EMS as a tool to help landholders achieve landscape outcomes, contributing to meeting natural resource management targets set at catchment and regional level through agreed processes (e.g. through the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality).

The key challenge for the framework is to reduce rather than add to the complexity surrounding environmental management issues.

5.2 The scope of the proposed EMS framework

Table 1 summarises the framework proposed for developing EMSs in agriculture. The scope of the framework may be restricted primarily to impacts on the biophysical environment and economic benefits resulting from more efficient input and waste management. However, the scope can be readily extended to reflect the growing expectation for reporting against environmental, social and economic criteria. This broad scope is consistent with the international standard for EMSs, ISO 14001.

The framework seeks to support EMS developments at different scales, and in different organisations, within an institutional context, and within the contexts of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and review activities. It can provide a common approach for informing and coordinating management across different land tenures and land uses (forests, national parks, agriculture) and is designed to be compatible with the existing framework for ecologically sustainable forest management and adoption of EMSs in fisheries.

The framework can apply to primary producers, to suppliers of farm inputs such as irrigation water, and to the businesses that transport, process and market primary products. It is likely that processors will become an important group of EMS adopters, as they can capture market advantage for processed goods through green branding and promotion. It is also probable that processors will increasingly insist that their raw material suppliers implement EMSs. They may even specify requirements for audit and certification. An EMS approach can be applied to a range of organisational structures operating at different scales in the agricultural sector. Examples of various organisational structures are: individual farms, including single and mixed enterprises; whole industry sectors; input suppliers; water utilities; processors; wholesalers; and retailers. An EMS may also cover non-agricultural enterprises on the property, such as tourism, in which case the importance of cultural, heritage, and occupational health and safety considerations may become more important.

5.3 Application of the framework at various scales

While the framework can be applied at various scales and over a range of organisational structures, it is emphasised that an EMS can be developed by, and applied to, only those activities over which an enterprise, or organisational structure, exercises direct control.

5.3.1 The farm scale

Landholders have clear responsibility to comply with the various State and Federal laws and regulations relating to the environment and natural resource management. The framework is intended to assist understanding of what these laws mean in practical terms.

A farmer's decision to adopt an EMS may be influenced by environmental considerations or industry and market requirements. Industry BMP guidelines or codes of practice may already exist for the enterprise and be readily available, or even compulsory, for members of some industries. The framework will improve landholder access to information on industry and other environmental management research developments.

The framework recognises that landholders will come from different starting points in their approach to environmental management and what they want to achieve from improved natural resource management. Individuals wishing to develop an EMS can enter at a level appropriate to their needs. The most appropriate entry level will also depend upon the type of business or enterprise, its position in the market place and any environmental reporting requirements.

Figure 2 sets out how the framework might work from the perspective of a multiple enterprise landholder, run by a single owner-operator.

The individual landholder commits to developing a plan that addresses significant environmental impacts of their operations and seeks to contribute towards meeting regional and catchment targets for the environment developed by local bodies. To ensure EMSs cover the critical environmental issues, there needs to be ongoing discussion between farmers adopting EMSs and the agencies developing environmental performance targets in consultation with industry and the community. These may include: authorities responsible for catchment management and regional development planning; research organisations providing the scientific basis for the targets set; government agencies; and other stakeholders. The framework will aim to facilitate landholder access to information on environmental priorities, and governments could facilitate research and assist landholders to make informed natural resource management decisions.

During the initial consultation process, some stakeholders found it beneficial to their understanding of the proposed framework if they had an example of an environment management framework at a scale similar to their own experience. Appendix 2 provides a model example from the viticulture industry, enabling producers to assess where they are currently situated and the requirements of different levels of commitment to environmental management and different market expectations. This phased approach encourages continuous improvement by identifying manageable incremental steps. The example illustrates that the management framework is similar at government, catchment or enterprise level.

5.3.2 The industry scale

Several primary industry organisations have established, or are establishing, codes of practice, BMP guidelines, and similar programs. Industry organisations may encourage individual operators to comply with these codes to ensure continued access to natural resources, food safety and environmental protection. Some industry organisations require members to adopt BMPs or be certified to an industry standard as a condition of membership.

Figure 2. Framework from the perspective of a multipurpose landholder, showing relationship between an individual property and the wider catchment.

A critical area for future action will be the regular updating of industry and government policies and plans to respond to our deepening understanding of environmental issues and the changing needs of the community. Notably, policies developed to address vertical integration issues facing individual industries will increasingly need to address industry responsibilities at the catchment and regional scale.

There may be scope for industry groups in a region to support the implementation of regional environmental plans in a more transparent and accountable fashion through the use of the EMS process. Furthermore, engaging industry in regional and catchment planning processes and target setting will result in enhanced ownership of the outcomes sought and is likely to increase EMS adoption rates. Integral to the success of good EMS adoption would be the utilisation of catchment or regionally specific web sites to relay information to industry, and performance measures to urban populations and world markets. The framework could act to promote and inform such industry developments.

5.3.3 The regional and catchment scales

Catchments and regions are generally recognised as the most appropriate scales for managing natural resource issues. It is likely that the catchment will become the standard spatial scale for setting off-farm natural resource management objectives. Governments are increasingly focusing attention at this scale in order to achieve tangible environmental improvements over the medium to longer term. Examples include the Murray-Darling Basin Commission's draft Integrated Catchment Management Strategy, the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and various other State and regional environmental plans and catchment strategies. Most efforts at natural resource management priority setting and monitoring are being undertaken at catchment level. In parts of Australia, geographic areas other than catchments may assume a lead role in delivering natural resource management outcomes across industry, for example, wine regions. Southcorp has embarked on a major program, with Land & Water Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation, to explore how ecological issues operating at the landscape scale can best be incorporated into EMSs operating at enterprise and industry scales.

Regional/catchment groups develop regional/catchment plans (with support from governments, e.g. through the National Action Plan forSalinity and Water Quality) that set goals and targets for the local a rea. These are likely to include, for example, end-of-valley targets for salinity and water quality and regional targets for vegetation management. `Agencies/groups' at this scale would also provide regional natural resource management information and assist landholders to identify priorities and issues.

The proposed framework seeks to enhance the links between EMSs and regional planning processes. Property management planning carried out on individual properties cannot necessarily achieve sustainable natural resource management at the landscape scale and EMS adoption by an industry in isolation of catchment-wide priorities will not necessarily achieve the required benefits for a particular catchment. Regional strategic planning supports protection of natural resource values (particularly biodiversity) that rely on ecosystem functioning at least at the landscape scale. Improved outcomes may be obtained through the development of catchment plans that fully engage landholders in contributing to the achievement of the desired changes. The EMS process may provide a valuable tool for translating broad strategies into practical on-ground actions.

The need for both governments and industry to be more focused in their approaches to natural resource management highlights various roles they can play. Government assistance, for example in facilitating EMS development and implementation by industry, accrediting regional plans, streamlining information availability and facilitating R&D feedback, will help to ensure that EMS initiatives are internationally credible. This could support industry in maintaining, or even gaining, market access.

The EMS seems to be the best chance for implementing catchment strategies. It provided me with a way to translate the theory of catchment management committees into practical on-farm actions. The Liverpool Plains Catchment targets are built into my EMS.

ISO 14001 certified grain-grower from the Liverpool Plains

Indicators for monitoring progress over time

More stringent assessment of the environmental impacts of agriculture has focused renewed attention on the need to monitor and evaluate trends in resource condition. Governments increasingly need to monitor and evaluate the tangible benefits of natural resource management programs. The full value of the EMS as a management tool will be realised only if its adoption occurs within a framework that provides the means of tracking progress over time. Indicators capable of capturing and monitoring trends in resource condition are required at the local, regional and catchment scales. Indicators are also required at the farm scale to track changes and improvements in agricultural practice. Development of such indicators and methods for monitoring and reporting against them should be informed by existing expertise on sustainability indicators. This includes relevant work being carried out in SCARM's National Cooperative Project for Indicators of Sustainable Agriculture, the National Land and Water Resources Audit, Montreal Process forestry indicators, State of the Environment, and Headline indicators, among others.

5.3.4 The local government scale

Local governments are the primary managers of public lands in their local areas, and their decisions and operations affect local and regional environments. Local governments also have a key role in land-use decision-making, through their planning approval processes. The framework proposed has potential to link existing and emerging EMSs with local government environment plans. The development and application of an EMS by a local council over its own business is a process that provides a structured approach to managing and delivering the range of its environmental policies. These linkages are important to an integrated approach to managing natural resources at the local and regional scale.

5.3.5 The State and national scales

The Council of Australian Governments recently agreed to implement a National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. This is clear recognition that salinity and water quality decline are seriously affecting the sustainability of Australian agriculture and the long-term viability of rural communities, as well as having significant impacts on biodiversity and regional infrastructure. Governments are keenly interested in the potential of industry-led EMSs to contribute to improving sustainable natural resource management.

At the State and national level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the National Environmental Protection Measures (Implementation) Act 1998 allow governments to design policies to protect the environment and to assist with the adoption of national environmental protection measures. Most States/Territories have, or are developing, catchment/regional strategies with a natural resource management focus. These vary in scope and content, but most identify and prioritise key issues and list actions and responsibilities to implement those actions. Such strategies would be picked up and made readily available through the proposed framework.

Box 6. Advice for Australian growers wishing to improve market access

The Western Australian Department of Agriculture, in a recent market analysis, surveyed major trading partners in the USA, Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia, China, India, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. While quality and price are still primary factors considered by the market place, environmental issues are emerging as a point of differentiation. Some 45% of those surveyed were influenced by environmental factors, with key issues being soil, chemicals, genetically modified organisms and biodiversity. Retailers are also driving change, notably through the EUREP good agricultural practice (GAP) protocol that requires compliance with guidelines on a wide variety of production practices. As a minimum, growers should demonstrate that their existing schemes are equivalent to what is being demanded by the retail sector, namely:

  • a food safety system based on HACCP or equivalent;
  • quality assurance to meet the technical specifications of the market; and
  • sourcing of farm products from producers who can demonstrate compliance with legislation—safe and legal use of pesticides, medicines and farm chemicals plus compliance with environmental, animal welfare and employment legislation.

Sources: ‘GFA-RACE Report on Food Safety and Quality Programs of Global Retailers 2001’ and ‘Department of Agriculture WA Environmental Accreditation System Market Analysis Report 2000’.

5.3.6 The international scale

EMSs may have a role to play in enhancing Australia's trading position. The evidence is growing that some type of production certification may become necessary to ensure rural industries can meet international requirements and can at least maintain, if not enhance, market access for commodities.

International agreements relevant to EMSs in agriculture include agreements reached under the World Trade Organization, Agenda 21, the Convention on Biodiversity, the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances and the Kyoto Protocol. For example, EMS adoption would be facilitated by provision of up-to-date information on international progress on EMSs in agriculture. Access to information on improving the sustainability of existing farming systems, reducing environmental impacts relating, for example, to pesticide use, conserving water quality and biodiversity, meeting international trade and market access requirements, and addressing human health and safety concerns would also assist informed decision making. The proposed framework can help facilitate the flow of information on all these matters.

5.4 Market and supply-chain features of EMSs for agriculture

The proposed framework will also consider the vertical integration of EMSs, i.e. the suite of mechanisms and institutional arrangements that focus on the role of industry in producing agricultural products and services that flow to the consumer via a supply chain comprised of various processing, distribution and marketing activities. This perspective is summarised in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Supply-chain links in the framework, illustrating that EMS can be involved at all levels of industry.

Ideally, for maximum credibility, all levels in the supply chain should be certified, not just the farm. In most cases, an EMS will be situated within and dependent upon a range of regulatory processes and influenced by a variety of catchment management and regional plans as noted elsewhere. The potential for market gains from EMS adoption may be enhanced if regional coalitions form to pursue and promote the advantages of produce from a particular region. There is growing interest in the potential of regional branding for achieving product differentiation and market advantages, a strategy well-known to those familiar with wine appellation districts. However, at this time, under the Export Control Act (1982), prescribed goods cannot carry any labelling claim that has a geographical reference.

The proposed framework will also facilitate linkages with the emerging National Food Industry Strategy being developed by industries in collaboration with government agencies. The National Food Industry Strategy aims to encourage the development of a sustainable, globally competitive Australian food industry through an industry-government partnership. A series of projects has been proposed to address on-farm issues, with the potential to include environmental management.


Your feedback is required to make sure that the framework is practical and makes a useful contribution to improving environmental performance in line with community expectations.

6. How can governments help?

Governments have traditionally supported activities to improve the economic performance of businesses through activities such as market development and strategies to improve business efficiency. Consistent information and support provided across all levels of government would promote existing and future industry/landholder activities to improve the environment. Governments are also concerned about environmental outcomes and have a range of regulatory tools to specify minimum standards of environmental performance. Governments are interested in facilitating and linking natural resource management and trade outcomes through voluntary adoption of EMSs. Governments generally become involved where there is market failure or public benefits exceed public costs; for example, where there are impacts beyond the farm, at landscape, catchment or regional levels.

An important part of the proposed framework for the development of EMS in agriculture is to identify the roles that governments and other interested parties can play in facilitating the adoption of EMSs and promoting their integration with other processes to achieve effective outcomes. It is important to clearly recognise that market forces have already led to many environment-related programs, many of which also involve certification. Not to recognise this would invite difficulty in getting industry and community acceptance of any government role in EMS.

The integration of EMSs with existing programs such as QA or PMP can be facilitated by government, but generally does not require government regulation. Existing programs can move towards EMSs in agriculture, through building blocks or transitional stages that might extend to an EMS, depending on the need to meet external environmental considerations. Some existing QA programs could, in response to market forces, move to an EMS without the need for government input.

Governments would like to ensure that the framework enhances, rather than infringes, on existing farm level certification or other programs. While industries should carry the primary responsibility for facilitating EMSs, initial consultations with industry have been supportive of governments assisting EMS uptake in a range of areas. For example, some industries see a key role for government in developing monitoring and evaluation tools and mechanisms at the farm and catchment scale, and that this would greatly assist EMS development on farm, as well as existing natural resource management programs. The role would encourage and support appropriate data gathering and the transfer of information. A government role in this area would therefore enhance decision making at a range of levels and support farmers, catchment management or regional planning groups, and local government agencies.

This introduces the concept of `partnership' or what is sometimes referred to as a `social contract' between industry and government. Partnership value would be derived from information exchange, ensuring certification meets international market requirements, or facilitating access to resources, information and capacity building.

6.1 Outcomes sought by governments from EMSs

The outcomes sought by governments in promoting EMSs include:

  • improved environmental and natural resource management, including more efficient resource use, better protection and management of biodiversity and reduced flows of chemical off farms and into water catchments;
  • improved competitiveness and economic development through enhanced global market access and stronger rural communities. Interest in EMSs in several Australian States has been stimulated by the emergence of `green' trade barriers in overseas markets;
  • less need for regulation and conflict management. Farmers are increasingly concerned about restrictions and pressures imposed on agriculture by neighbours and the community. EMSs could be seen as an alternative approach to further legislation. Industry-led interest in EMSs overseas has also been stimulated by threat of stricter environmental regulation and by community-led lawsuits against environmentally irresponsible companies; and
  • health and safety. Regulations for key health and safety issues tend to set minimum standards. There is potential for the EMS to provide an integrated management tool to simplify management tasks and deliver better outcomes in some situations.

6.2 Potential areas where governments could play a role

The EMS working group has identified five areas in which governments, in partnership with industry, could play a role in promoting the adoption of EMSs:

  • Education and information;
  • Coordination;
  • Facilitation;
  • Environmental policy development; and
  • International arrangements.

Possible activities under each of these areas are outlined in Table 2.

6.3 Incentives

Governments could provide incentives to support voluntary and industry-led adoption of EMS through a range of programs. For example, through the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, governments will establish national natural resource outcomes which will provide the context for setting of regional targets within accredited regional plans. Federal and State governments will invest in priority actions within the plans to achieve the targets. This investment could be directed by regional bodies or other stakeholders to assist or encourage individual landholders in a catchment to adopt EMSs that lead to appropriate farm management, which will in turn collectively lead to achievement of catchment targets and broader national outcomes.

Table 2. Five areas in which governments could play a role in environmental management systems (EMSs) for agriculture

National/Commonwealth governments

State/Territory governments

Local governments

1 Education and information

  • Collate, disseminate and update EMS information for all stakeholders
  • Facilitate and coordinate EMS training opportunities and BMP in agriculture
  • Provide information on ‘green market signals’ and international trends
  • Provide other relevant supporting information (National Land and Water Resources Audit, SOE reports, and other data and reports
  • Identify case studies and promote benefits of EMSs to producers, processors and consumers
  • Provide information on environmental risks, standards and best practice for agriculture
  • Facilitate EMS training opportunities and BMPs
  • Provide supporting regional data and reports
  • Use Landcare and catchment networks to promote EMSs
  • Identify case studies
  • Provide local SOE commentary
  • Communicate local planning and other guidelines
  • Provide resource information, where available

2 Coordination

  • Coordinate establishment of national and regional environmental objectives and targets, standards and guidelines in partnership with States, industries, research organisations and communities
  • Assist integration of EMSs with other existing systems (e.g. PMP, QA etc.)
  • Ensure stakeholders are up-to-date with relevant national and international EMS developments
  • Contribute to development of environmental management standards and guidelines
  • Coordinate establishment of local and regional environmental objectives and targets in partnership with research organisations and communities
  • Ensure stakeholders are up-to-date with relevant regional and State EMS developments
  • Assist in coordination of local groups that are addressing issues of environmental management in farming
  • Work with industry locally

3 Facilitation

  • Support an environmental management system framework appropriate to all levels of government and industry
  • Establish environmental objectives and targets at local, regional and national levels in partnership with research organisations, conservation groups and local communities
  • Establish and maintain institutional arrangements to foster voluntary EMS adoption
  • Catalyse EMS development and adoption through expert-led workshops with interested stakeholders
  • Support voluntary EMS participation
  • Support an environmental management system framework appropriate to all levels of government and industry
  • Establish and maintain institutional arrangements to foster voluntary EMS adoption
  • Support voluntary participation in EMS initiatives
  • Promote efficient environmental management systems
  • Assist integration of EMSs with other existing systems (e.g. PMP, QA etc.)
  • Support good environmental management among farm suppliers
  • Support an environmental management system framework appropriate to all levels of government and industry
  • Support local establishment of environmental objectives and targets
  • Support voluntary participation in EMS initiatives

4 Environmental policy development

  • Develop incentives for voluntary EMS adoption, for example, reduced licence or permit fees
  • Focus EMSs to address critical issues
  • Develop incentives for voluntary EMS adoption, e.g. reduced licence or permit fees
  • Provide input to EMS development to address critical environmental issues
  • Support a community culture of EMS adoption
  • Provide input to EMS development to address local environmental issues

5 International arrangements

  • Support industry in export market identification and development
  • Negotiate trade rules and appropriate
  • Support industry in export market identification and development (except in New Zealand)
  • Fulfil role in responsible sustainable development under Agenda 21

While on-farm benefits such as improved efficiencies will lead some producers to develop an EMS, market support or opportunities that provide a financial benefit to farmers will improve adoption. An eco-label is designed to enable products to be differentiated as more environmentally friendly than other similar products. If such an eco-label is to maintain market credibility, it needs a process that validates the claims made--a certified and audited EMS could provide that assurance. There is a role for government to facilitate development of some of these options, e.g. by providing information on opportunities.

An incentive for being environmentally responsible is really needed to get significant uptake as there is quite a lot of time and expense involved. EMS is voluntary, but not separate from regulations, since we all have to comply with the law. I can now see the management benefits, although neighbours have said, “Why put more barriers up for ourselves? Why make life harder than it already is?

Multiple enterprise farmer, Liverpool Plains

Other options that may facilitate producers obtaining economic benefits from adopting an EMS include:

  • merchant's own home brands supported by their market promotion, in which case merchants may require a process equivalent to an EMS to provide product assurance;
  • regional labels or promotions claiming to be `clean and green';
  • agricultural resource quality schemes as part of risk management by financial institutions or for real estate transactions;
  • the EMS as a criterion for allocating stewardship payments;
  • ecotourism with a market for premium tourism on properties with demonstrated superior natural resource management; and
  • State and Federal governments implementing preferred supplier schemes that give preference to products supplied by farmers able to demonstrate their environmental management.

6.4 Improved communication

The achievement of many of these proposed roles of government would be facilitated by making up-to-date information readily available to all interested parties. The working group has given thought to this communication role for governments and developed a web-based communication tool (see Box 7).

Another legitimate communication role for governments might be to work with industry to ensure that policy and guideline materials that are inputs to EMSs are sufficient for the purpose. An example might be information on biodiversity management relevant to a local area.

6.5 Suggested criteria for government involvement

Governments have a role to foster agriculture's contributions to ecologically sustainable development (ESD), in line with community expectations. Increasingly, the focus of government actions is on areas where the market fails to deliver what the community requires in terms of natural resource outcomes. That involvement should also be cost effective, so that market failure is not replaced by government failure.

Possible criteria to determine whether government involvement in EMS is appropriate are:

  • Is there market failure?
  • Are the costs of market failure sufficient to justify government action?
  • Can the market failure be addressed at source (i.e. by stakeholders other than government)?
  • If government must be involved, how does the proposed option compare with alternatives for achieving the same outcome?
  • Are there community service obligations that make government involvement mandatory, i.e. are there public good benefits that cannot be achieved without government involvement?
  • Do public benefits exceed public costs? Is the proposed option cost effective?

Box 7. EMS Navigator — a tool for EMS in Australian agriculture

Numerous stakeholders have said that providing some mechanism for improved EMS communication around the country would be a useful contribution by governments towards facilitating and coordinating EMS adoption in Australian agriculture. A web-based mechanism called the ‘EMS Navigator’ has therefore been developed to improve access to EMS information held by various government and industry agencies around Australia and overseas. The aim is to provide interested parties with a means to rapidly learn about the range of EMS activities across the country and the context within which EMS occurs.

The EMS Navigator provides simple and straightforward links to EMS and related information. Contributing agencies that host their own EMS information retain responsibility for maintaining and updating their information on their own servers. Users can search the database by industry, by State, by activity or by word. Under the Australian Privacy Act, individuals must give explicit permission for their name, email address and phone number to be placed on the web. Therefore, all current EMS and related activities on the Navigator have had written approval for all contact details for project managers.

The address of EMS Navigator is <>

There will be many areas to be addressed by the proposed framework that satisfy these criteria, including development of policies and plans, and the research component of developing BMPs and codes of practice. On the other hand, the market can deliver aspects such as certification and auditing personnel. For other aspects, where there may not yet be sufficient business justification, short-term involvement by government may be justified while the market develops. In this case, an exit strategy needs to be determined so that future independent businesses are not `crowded out' by government involvement.

6.5.1 Where governments should not be involved

The working group has also identified areas in which it believes governments should not be involved. It would not be desirable, for example, for governments to:

  • establish EMSs in farming as a legislative, or regulatory, requirement;
  • require the EMS as a mandatory condition of land use;
  • require EMSs as a condition of materials use, for example of farm chemicals or fertilisers; and
  • audit farm EMSs, provide personnel to audit EMSs, or accredit certification schemes.

6.5.2 Consistency of role with intergovernmental agreements and regulatory reform

Involvement of government in EMSs and audit and certification should be consistent with existing intergovernmental initiatives, such as National Competition Policy (Council of Australian Governments 1995), microeconomic reform and regulatory reform. Under National Competition Policy agreements, where actions that restrict competition are specified in legislation, such arrangements are endorsed only if they are in the `public interest', with the benefits outweighing the costs, and where there is no reasonable alternative for achieving the objective(s) of the legislation. Factors that may be taken into account when determining `public interest' may include ecologically sustainable development, health and safety, economics and regional development, consumer interests, competitiveness of Australian business, and efficient allocation of resources. Even for government activities that do not rely on legislation, e.g. proposed government role in EMSs, assessment against National Competition Policy is useful for considering whether government intervention is justified. In addition, the Inter Governmental Agreement on the Environment obliges States to integrate principles of ecologically sustainable development into government decision-making processes. The proposed role of government in EMSs should also be consistent with existing laws relating, for example, to the management of natural resources.


We seek your feedback on roles for government. List areas where government roles have bee omitted or where you think involvement is not appropriate.

What are your views on how communication could be improved?

Appendix 1. Glossary of terms used in the report

Best management practices (BMPs) are procedures and management guidelines. Monitoring and assessment are needed to determine their effectiveness, but not always done. BMPs can be used at local, regional and national levels and may provide targets for developing an EMS, cf. merely `management' guidelines. BMPs can be static or can be periodically reviewed and updated.

Biodiversity - the variety of all forms of life: including the different plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems they form. It is usually considered at three levels: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.

Catchment - an area or basin from which rainfall flows into a river, stream or drainage system, particularly relevant when considering issues such as dryland salinity in which water movement is important.

Certification refers to a business, organisation, producer or processor that is certified to be operating in conformity with a particular standard (e.g. organics, Forest or Marine Stewardship Council or ISO).

Codes of practice are developed and adopted by an industry and promoted amongst industry members. These may incorporate BMPs. They are adopted by an industry and promoted amongst members

Continuous improvement is the process of using EMSs to enhance management and achieve improvements in overall environmental performance in line with an organisation's environmental policy. It refers to constant review and evaluation to ensure that the system is improving.

Eco-labels - differentiate products on the basis of claims about environmental characteristics. They are designed to enable consumers to exercise their buying power to increase the environmental awareness of producers and decrease harmful environmental effects. Claims may be externally verified and eco-labels underpinned by a certified EMS are likely to carry more credibility than those applied without either certification or system to underpin the claims made.

Ecologically sustainable development (ESD) - the improvement of the quality of life, now and in the future, including all environmental, social and economic components.

Enterprise - a component of a farm business. A landholder may have a single or multiple enterprises.

Environment is used to describe the surroundings in which we all operate, including air, water, soil, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans and their interactions.

Environmental management system (EMS) - EMS is a generic term used to describe any systematic management approach used by an enterprise or an organisation to manage its impacts on the environment. Environmental impacts and legal responsibilities are identified and a structured approach taken to review and improvement. An EMS provides a management framework that achieves continuous improvement through a `plan, do, check, act' cycle, within which BMPs can be integrated, and codes of practice upheld. An EMS can be externally audited and may be certified to the international standard, ISO 14001, or to EMAS (in the European Union).

Environmental policy - statement by an organisation of its intentions and principles in relation to its overall environmental performance which provides a framework for action, for the setting of its environmental objectives and targets and for the periodic review of the policy.

Greenhouse - the greenhouse effect can be defined as human-induced change in the atmosphere that reduces the escape of radiation from the earth's surface. Efforts are being made to reduce greenhouse emissions from agriculture, including those carried out by the Australian Greenhouse Office through the Greenhouse Challenge in an effort to combat global climate change caused by global warming.

Implementation includes defining roles and responsibilities, training to develop the required competence, and setting up effective communication channels both internally and externally. Documentation, document control, operational control and emergency preparedness and response are also included, along with providing the time, resources and staff to make things happen.

Institutional arrangements relate to commitments and policies undertaken, including compliance with relevant environmental legislation and any other requirements to which an organisation subscribes. Environmental policies should be appropriate to the nature, scale and environmental impacts of activities. An organisation's EMS also provides a framework for ensuring commitment to continual improvement and pollution prevention and for setting and reviewing environmental targets, ensuring policies are documented, implemented and communicated to all employees.

ISO stands for the International Organisation for Standardisation. International committees formed under the auspices of the ISO have developed internationally accepted standards to guide the development of quality management (ISO 9000 series) and environmental management (ISO 14000 series, including ISO 14001, the international EMS standard).

Measurement and evaluation involves establishing and maintaining procedures to monitor and measure impacts, performance, operational controls and conformance with objectives and targets.

Monitoring is the repeated observation and recording of findings over time. Frequently used in conjunction with evaluation to assess the progress in achieving stated outcomes over a given period.

Natural resource management is the management of the natural resource base (land, soil, water, vegetation etc) in a manner that maintains/safeguards its value for future generations. The term is used to denote the management of land and water in Australia and is widely used overseas where it generally also includes resources such as forests, fisheries and minerals.

Planning includes establishing procedures to identify environmental impacts, legal and other obligations. Also included is setting environmental objectives and targets, establishing programs for achieving these, researching and developing key performance indicators and for reviewing progress.

Property management planning (PMP) assists land managers to manage the personal, physical and financial aspects of a farm business through the development of a PMPlan. The National PMP Campaign aims to increase farmer self-reliance and knowledge in relation to risk management and drought preparedness based on whole farm planning.

Quality assurance (QA) programs ensure that products consistently meet customer requirements. They are systems designed to ensure the quality of the end product (as defined by the customers), and are usually developed and adopted by industries or individuals. They may be compatible with and/or certified to the ISO 9000 series.

Region - an area that can be determined by geographical, institutional or socialboundaries.

Review and improvement - specifically relates to the review of an EMS to determine its continuing suitability. The review process and outcomes should be documented. Policies, objectives and other elements of the EMS may need to be changed in the light of an EMS review, changing circumstances and/or the commitment to continual improvement.

Sustainable agriculture - has been defined as the use of farming practices and systems that maintain or enhance the economic viability of agricultural production, the natural resource base, and other ecosystems that are influenced by agricultural activities (SCARM 1998).

Sustainability indicators - a practical set of measures that enables decision-makers to evaluate how well a process or activity under review (e.g. agriculture, forestry and fishing) is contributing to ESD. In order to be meaningful, indicators need to be expressed within a framework that states the objectives that society is seeking to achieve.

1. Although the framework has been purposely developed to be applicable in both countries, it has not been assumed that New Zealand will necessarily adopt the framework. However, New Zealand input has been valuable during the development of the proposed framework. The New Zealand perspective on environmental management systems is provided on page 12.

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