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A successful operation: EMS implementation in Eugene, Oregon

Megan Zadecky
Communications Manager
APWA Washington, D.C. Office

Author's Note: With approximately 138,000 people, the City of Eugene is the second largest city in Oregon. The Wastewater Division is part of the Public Works Department serving about 215,000 customers in the Eugene/Springfield metropolitan area.

APWA is committed to providing public works professionals with information about improving their agency's performance and increasing efficiency. With support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Water, APWA is teaming with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) to conduct an education campaign on the benefits of Environmental Management Systems (EMS).

"Many people throughout the public works community relate the acronym EMS with emergency services. Through our outreach efforts, I hope that you come to associate EMS with improved compliance, efficiency and effectiveness. It is my hope that the following up-front account about EMS from someone with hands-on experience may be beneficial in making this distinction," said Peter B. King, APWA Executive Director.

Peter Ruffier is the Wastewater Division Director for the City of Eugene, Oregon and is currently serving as a member of the EMS Local Government Advisory Committee (EMS LGAC). Comprised of public works professionals and city managers, the EMS LGAC provides guidance and oversight on APWA's EMS-related activities. As Wastewater Division Director, Peter's responsibility extended to implementing and managing the Division's EMS. I had the pleasure of talking with Peter in January about the EMS journey the Eugene Wastewater Division embarked on in the fall of 1999.

How did the City of Eugene first learn about EMS? We read a lot about EMS in different publications covering the topic. As we were reading about this system, we also observed firsthand the progress that the San Diego Public Works Department was having with the implantation of their EMS. My colleagues in San Diego regularly shared information with me about their successes and experiences.

What was the driving force behind the City's decisions to adopt an EMS in the Eugene Wastewater Division? We searched for viable solutions to overcome several environmental challenges confronting us. For example, our MPDS discharge permit was up for renewal, the Spring Chinook salmon in the Willamette River was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the City Council passed a resolution to enforce sustainability of city operations. We were also exploring approaches to better organize the strategic management of our operations. We chose EMS to improve performance and efficiency, as well as to confront the challenges we faced.

How did you garner political support for this initiative? We worked in an atmosphere where people were receptive to the project, so instead of convincing, we educated. Our City Manager and Public Works Director approached the City Council explaining EMS and the positive benefits it would have on both the internal management of the Wastewater Division and the public who rely on our services for a clean, safer environment.

What were the first steps taken by the Wastewater Division to begin EMS implementation? The first step is always to hire a consultant, which we did. But before we hired our consultant, we familiarized ourselves with EMS by reading and talking to our colleagues with experience in this area. A gap analysis was conducted to compare the existing practices against the ISO 14001 standard and illustrate the work ahead in terms of which systems and procedures should be modified. Our consultant helped us organize; however, once our implementation team became more comfortable with its understanding of EMS, they drew less on the consultant's work.

What was the Wastewater Division's process for involving agency staff in EMS implementation? Our philosophy was that we would not be successful unless we captured people's hearts as well as their minds. With this in mind, there was a degree of championing the effort to help our staff understand the reasons the agency believed this was a valuable activity. We spent considerable time talking to the staff. An implementation team comprised of a core group of about nine staff members was established. The implementation team was responsible for training and educating everyone. Effectively convincing and training our staff was an investment in the project.

Would you briefly explain the Division's process for setting its EMS goals? We identified all environmental aspects and determined the environmental impacts or potential resulting associated with each aspect. The environmental impacts were prioritized in terms of which we felt were the most significant. We identified over 400 environmental impacts, which is a tremendous number. Our staff finally boiled it down to 67 impacts. This is also a large number since most organizations only target about 10. After agreeing on the impacts, we set goals for mitigating and eliminating these impacts. For each goal specific targets were established. Our entire organization was involved in this process. Work groups were established to give input on the aspects listed. The implementation team worked on prioritization of the list.

What resources did you find most helpful in designing and implementing your EMS? Our consultant was helpful in the beginning because the standards and terminology are not intuitive. We also benefited tremendously from talking with other public works professionals who were involved in EMS. As I mentioned, my colleagues in San Diego were always available for consultation. Our Division also received support and assistance from the U.S. EPA, Office of Water. Jim Horne in Washington worked with us from the beginning of our project. It was encouraging to know that even though we were not officially part of the EPA EMS initiatives, EPA availed their staff and resources to us on a consistent basis as needed.

The Eugene/Springfield Water Pollution Control Facility, part of the Wastewater Division and considered a "fenceline" for the project. A fenceline in EMS-speak is an operational area within an organization the EMS is implemented. (Photo courtesy of the City of Eugene, Oregon Wastewater Division)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has your agency found to be two of the biggest challenges related to EMS implementation? The biggest challenge we faced is not unique to EMS, but one that many people face when they are implementing a new initiative. There was a level of internal skepticism within our agency about the true intent and objectives of the project. In the beginning, it was, at times, difficult convincing people to buy into the value of adopting these practices. Our experience suggests that it takes about three years to embed the EMS system into an organization's practices. The implementation of new initiatives can be a long haul. The managers and staff involved with implementation need to be patient with the process.

Another challenge that we faced involved our effort to revise our document control system simultaneously with the implementation of our EMS. Initially there was a disruption in the system because we applied two different changes to our document control system at the same time. If I had it to do over again, I would have my document control system where it needed to be before it was subjected to EMS.

What has your agency found to be two of the most rewarding benefits of EMS implementation? One of the primary benefits that I credit to EMS is the clarity of focus that our Division has in terms of developing goals and objectives.

EMS forced us to set forth measurable goals and targets and create a system by which we could measure them. The "Plan, Do, Check, Act" model provides us with a structure for our operations and a rationale for improving environmental performance. Another advantage of EMS is that our agency is saving money because the system ensures better control and efficiency in our processes and procedures.

It is also important for me to mention that another benefit of EMS is the sense of pride it has fostered within our agency. We are one of about a dozen wastewater utilities in the U.S. registered under the ISO 14001 standard. We are the only wastewater agency accepted into the performance track program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. These standards give us a mechanism to benchmark ourselves against our peers. We find that we are proud by how we measure up to other agencies.

Have you used EMS to help integrate other programs like the balanced scorecard, asset management, APWA Accreditation, etc? I am going to turn this question around and say that we are looking at the balanced scorecard to integrate EMS into other agency operations. While our original focus was to get the EMS in place and established in one agency, we cannot ignore our other responsibilities. EMS has helped by providing us with a skill set (plan, do, check, act) for management that can be applied to other functions within our agency making it easier to adopt and integrate other activities throughout the organization.

What is your advice for people who may be interested in implementing EMS? I would encourage people to make sure that they are committed to the concepts of environmental management before embarking on the EMS journey. The successful implementation of this system requires resources and a lot of work. It is like any other initiative where you are changing fundamental policies and practices. You have to be committed to it and believe in it. With that said, I think that this is a good thing. In Eugene, we have had great experiences with EMS and it is beneficial. I would encourage people to look into it if it is something that they are interested in pursuing.

Peter Ruffier can be reached at (541) 682-8606 or at peter.j.ruffier@ci.eugene.or.us; Megan Zadecky can be reached at (202) 218-6712 or at mzadecky@apwa.net.