Putting environmental policy into action

In his overview of this edition, the Director has drawn attention to the environmental impact of the activities of the Australian Antarctic program. Expeditioners might argue that effective operational implementation of environmental policy is the ultimate demonstration of the AAD’s commitment to meet its obligations to protect the environment.

The variety of environmental policy documents, the Madrid Protocol, the AT(EP) Act and the many sources of related advice and guidelines all assist in determining what it is that can and cannot be done when conducting operations in support of science. The recently released AAD Environmental Policy is especially important in this regard. These ‘rules’ and the system in place to develop them — to review their appropriateness, report on them and ensure that AAD environmental management procedures are robust — make up the all-important policy framework. However, implementing environmental policy in Antarctica requires practical knowledge to be applied to the ‘rules’ before they translate into safe, environmentally-sound and cost-effective operational practice.

The AAD’s Operations Branch is responsible for the way that many things are done in Antarctica, including coordinating and delivering sound environmental outcomes in the delivery of the three objectives that make up operational support to science:

  • preparation and implementation of Antarctic and subantarctic operational programs
  • delivery of emergency response
  • planning future Antarctic and subantarctic support infrastructure

Expeditioners and Operations Branch staff form the group that leads, manages, implements and reports on the conduct of operational support, and consequently have significant environmental responsibilities. ‘We make it happen’ is our branch motto; making it happen in the most pristine environment on earth demands total commitment and involvement from everyone involved. We are developing processes to ensure highest-level environmental standards are met, and these are evolving to keep pace with a growing awareness of the fragility of the Antarctic environment and ever-improving policy and regulatory frameworks. In doing this, we take special account of:

  • the importance of individuals understanding what is expected of them in the environmental context, and then accepting responsibility and accountability for their actions in this regard
  • the significance of managers and staff incorporating good environmental practice into mainstream activities, and accepting environmental accountability for their actions

The first of these requires quality training and education programs. Expeditioners are selected because of specialist skills, knowledge and personal attributes. It is the role of the Operations Branch to ensure that these highly motivated people are helped to understand their part in protecting the environment, and to give them the skills necessary to meet expectations.

Incorporating good environmental practice into line management processes, besides being good corporate governance, will align operational processes with the requirements of the AAD environmental management system now being developed. Much has been done already and improved environmental performance in all operational activities forms one part of a triumvirate of factors that must be properly managed in all that happens in Antarctica — safety, environment and cost effectiveness.

Clearly, the Operations Branch has a major role in implementing environmental policies. It is also an important repository of expert knowledge on operational activities, providing valuable feedback and support to the policy makers. Those who implement the policy form a significant and important part of the overall environment management system. The Operations Branch has introduced many changes to ensure that it is well positioned to help achieve successful certification to the Environmental Management System international standard ISO14001.

That said, whether –

  • leading in international forums such as the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) and the Standing Committee of Antarctic Logistic operators (SCALOP)
  • finding new ways of reducing environmental impact in such operations as waste treatment, clean-up projects, reduced energy consumption, new operating cycles that limit interaction with animals, improved quarantine procedures and handling of processes for field projects
  • improving the response to emergencies and unplanned events so that environmental issues are properly considered, such as new oil spill plans, contingency planning, responding to risks of introduced species
  • planning for the future through such projects as wind turbines, building management and control systems, new transport systems, designing infrastructure that matches future rather than contemporary expectations
  • working to ensure easy certification to ISO14001

the members of the Operations Branch unashamedly continue to boast that, when it comes to operational support… We make it happen!

Kim F Pitt, General Manager Operations, AAD