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Article << Previous     |         Contents Vol 43(3)

Where, and how, do monitoring and sustainability indicators fit into environmental management systems?

G. Carruthers and G. Tinning

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 43(3) 307 - 323
Published: 08 April 2003


Despite the availability of numerous 'sustainability indicators' (as defined by researchers and resource-management agency staff), many farmers do not routinely use these indicators for monitoring and measurement of their everyday farm management. Farmers' past experiences with such indicators have often been through their use by researchers (trying to evaluate effects of management or quantify resource condition changes) or other external bodies (usually regulatory agencies endeavouring to regulate environmental impacts). Such experiences have added little or nothing to on-farm management. Rather, farmers often rely on a diverse range of personally relevant indicators to assess the performance of their farm business. Such indicators may not be recognised by others as indicative of sustainability.

The process used in environmental management systems (EMS) implementation is predicated on the need for information to flow back to the manager to assist their management choices. In this way, the indicators of most use are those that the manager can determine and utilise. This paper describes the connection between environmental management systems, monitoring and indicators, and the importance of these linkages to the efficient and sustainable management of natural resources. It discusses a collaborative project between in New South Wales and Queensland grain farmers, and NSW Agriculture, to develop generic EMS guidelines based on the international standard for EMS, ISO 14001. While there are numerous recommended sustainability indicators, research with these farmers has found that it is more critical to determine which issues are of importance to the farmers and identify potential indicators they will utilise, rather than to recommend a prescribed suite of indicators. In some cases, these indicators may be of a larger-scale than just their property.

Different users of resource-management information will require different indicators. The use of the EMS process provides structure and guidance in determining which of the plethora of indicators might be applicable, while allowing farmers to maximise benefits in the market place or the community. Resource-management agencies and customers may require a different suite of indicators. The use of EMS assists in streamlining all these demands, while keeping the focus on the management approaches required to achieve the greatest benefit for the manager.

Full text doi:10.1071/EA00177

© CSIRO 2003

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