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Just behind the environmental manager is a vast array of people - supervisers, team leaders, technicians, or quality or H&S managers - all of whom would be involved in implementing an environmental management system. Dr Charlie Clutterbuck, Groundwork Blackburn, asks: Why aren't they used more?

Instead of placing more demands on the hard worked manager, Environmental Practice at Work involves engineers, young graduates, quality managers and technicians, all of whom want to learn more about the environment. Participants carry out work-based activities, rather than just collecting evidence about their own job.

There are lots of courses for environmental management training, but they all cost time and money. You will, of course, find subsidised courses explaining the basics; bite-sized chunks to get you on the pathway. In the process, "the environment" gets reduced to saving some energy, waste or paper. Is that all there is to it?

Level 4 National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) standards have been produced by the MCI for managers to demonstrate competence in implementing an environmental management system. Level 4 is for those managers who have a fair degree of responsibility. If you are responsible for implementing an environmental management system you can get the NVQ 4 too - should you have the time and the necessary college contact locally. How many will have the time?

Environmental champions
Yet just behind these managers is a vast array of people: supervisers, team leaders, union representatives, or quality or H&S managers. They will be involved with implementing any environmental management system. Why aren't they used more? These people are not so concerned about costs and legal threats. Instead, they may be motivated by their own possible progression and improving the environment. They see it on TV, hear it from their children and would like to do something about it, but simply do not have the power.

In "NVQ speak" these are level 3 operators - they have a degree of autonomy and flexibility, but not the responsibility of higher managers. And if they can get a proper qualification, they may be even more motivated. If there was a recognised learning programme, they could support the implementation of any environmental management system. Without having to bother about policies, personnel and audits, they would have the time to properly discover the real environmental issues and drivers. They could become your environmental champions. They could develop risk assessment techniques, help set targets and build a broad base of environmental skills in your organisation. They could find relevant case studies to help you improve environment practice at work. They could learn about the principles, such as precautionary, cleaner production and waste hierarchy, and turn them into improved practice at work. They could also link to the wider world of sustainable development and foster useful links and partnerships.

A partnership between Blackburn College and Groundwork Blackburn has been working with British Aerospace Samlesbury in developing just such a programme, using European ADAPT funding. Based on the experiences at the Samlesbury site - successful in involving most staff - the programme delivers guided learning through part of the company's supply chain. Instead of placing more demands on the hard worked manager, it involves engineers, young graduates, quality managers and technicians, all of whom want to learn more about the environment. The programme is "notional" NVQ level 3, meaning participants carry out the work-based activities, rather than just collecting evidence about their own job. And because candidates are level 3, they have some flexibility at work to collect the necessary evidence. It requires only that the company commit candidates to two to three hours a week, while at work.

Solid foundations
The programme, called Environmental Practice at Work, or EP@W, is based on national or international standards. Participants follow four mandatory units, covering environmental awareness, environmental risk assessment, environmental practice and sustainable development. The programme provides a common process for any environmental matter, whether related to energy, waste or pollution. The main environmental impacts are based on UN conventions. The programme standards reflect ISO 14001/31 definitions, process and concepts. The underlying principles are based on the UK Panel for Education and Sustainable development and the 1999 WHO Conference, "Health and Environment". Most importantly, the course standards have been verified by ncfE, a national awarding body. This means that any accredited centres - usually FE Colleges - can run the programme. It fits the mainstream of training in companies and colleges.

Materials have been produced against this course programme in an electronic format so that they can be delivered into workplaces anywhere, anytime. All the educational and activity-based materials are hyperlinked to underlying data and case studies, eventually leading to web-based references and chat lines. The aim is for people to access up-to-date environmental issues and business developments from their workplace.

While it was originally intended to lead a company towards an environmental management system, Environmental Practice at Work can help during implementation. One local company sees it as a way of having four or five people covering all possible work aspects of environmental opportunities; another sees it as a way to revitalise people after implementing environmental improvement programme. This mixture of company and individual motivation could provide an exciting ingredient to the environmental training portfolio.


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