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Demonstrating the benefits of environmental management systems in agriculture

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Carruthers, G (2012) Demonstrating the benefits of environmental management systems in agriculture. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

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.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: environmental management systems, agriculture, EMS, sustainability, ISO 14001
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Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2012 07:35
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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