Achieving organizational strategy with ISO certification – Singapore Zoo's experience
WRS operates the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari in Singapore. The Zoo has managed to use management systems as part of its corporate strategy to achieve its mission and vision.
WRS operates the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari in Singapore. In 2008, Jurong Bird Park served 900,000 visitors, the Night Safari, more than 1.1 million visitors and Singapore Zoo attracted more than 1.6 million visitors. WRS parks have been conferred the Best Leisure Attraction Experience Award at the Singapore Tourism Awards 18 times. Singapore zoo is certainly one of the most important tourist destinations for the small island republic. It is also one of the leading zoological institutions in Asia and in the world.
Richard Gunawan, VP for Business and Sustainability Development, Asia spoke to Ms Fanny Lai, CEO of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) and she highlighted the importance of having a management system in her organisation.
The mission and vision of WRS is based on conservation activities and an attempt to bring people closer to the nature. On the surface, the group’s vision seems to be simple and straight forward. However, this must be translated into strategic actions and should be related to animal conservation or to the zoo’s aim of protecting species, their habitats and eco-systems or to reduce the rate of their extinction.
Implementation of ISO 14001 – The Singapore Zoo Way
We know that over the years, organisations have questioned the benefits of having a certified management system. Certification is often seen as a necessity to comply with legislation or to meet the requirements of the organisation’s operating environment. Users of the system often point to the management of records, audits, bureaucracy and complexity of certification as being onerous and resource depleting.
Fanny Lai claimed that if management system is implemented properly it can bring valuable benefits to the organisation. Most importantly, it will help people to focus on the overall organisation’s strategy.
As a first step, WRS contacted professors and environmental experts to demystify ISO 14001. The whole program was designed to meet their corporate vision of ‘conservation’. Next, WRS benchmarked their activities against other organisations to select best practices. The overall aim was to minimise the organisation’s impact to the environment.
Emphasis on the planning part of the PDCA Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) meant that in order to reduce waste WRS would have to think further than just recycling cans or paper. Employees were encouraged to contribute ideas and to think outside the box during the planning stage. For example, one employee suggested a novel way to use tree trunks and large branches. Due to the prevalence of numerous thunderstorms in Singapore, many of the trees lose their branches. Rather than putting them in the rubbish bins, they could be reused as furniture in the exhibit. Animals could play with them and they would blend in to their habitat. The barks and the trunk also attract termites and insects which in turn could be used to feed other animals.
Other employees looked at using organic waste from tree barks and fauna which could be used as compost and natural fertiliser. With this compost, the zoo is able to plant its own trees to feed the animals. Nearly 40,000 trees and shrubs were planted annually. Some of these novel ideas in managing waste could save WRS more than US$5m annually. Ms Lai said, ‘For WRS, conservation is more than just economic principles. While one can save money by reducing energy usage, or by more efficient usage of water, conservation is our core strategy. The extra funds that WRS gains through this can be used to help sick animals or to buy vaccines for endangered species in the wild or on research to conserve more flora and fauna.”
Focus on Safety – Creating a safe environment
Ms Lai said, “In order for Singapore Zoo to bring people closer to nature, the public must feel safe to be at Zoo. If our employees are concerned about their safety and look unhappy, why would the public come and visit our parks?”
In November 2008, one of the zookeepers was attacked by the White Bengal tigers as he was approaching them. He was reportedly acting erratically, as he made an attempt to cross a moat surrounding their enclosure. The incident generated international headlines and it had to be handled correctly even when the unusual event was caused by an emotionally unstable person.
Staff members require a leader who they can trust and follow. Most times organisations talk about employee safety, but it is the action that matters in the end. Ms Lai believes that while it is not always possible to safeguard everything, as a leader it is their responsibility to minimise the risks. In response to November’s incident, WRS management took immediate actions to rectify the situation and to do this they committed to the following actions:
a. Provide immediate counselling to the rest of the staff
b. Review the existing safety system
c. Find out the root cause of the problem
d. Adopt international best practice such as OHSAS 18001
Although the zoo was not responsible for the death, it took this incident extremely seriously. Safety alone is inadequate; it is also crucial to manage the health of employees. WRS is also now providing counselling to assist employees who are in a difficult situation. In order to promote a healthy lifestyle, WRS also provide lifestyle classes to their employees, from financial management to reduce debt to lessons in healthy cooking.
Ms Lai says, ‘If our people are healthy and happy, they will perform better.’ WRS also provide nutritious, balanced and complementary meals for their staff. Some of the physical work is demanding and it is important for them to be energetic and healthy.
Both Safety and Health programs must run simultaneously to be successful. To reduce sick leave and to improve morale, organisation must also be pro-active in managing the physical, mental and emotional health of our people.
Challenges in the implementation of the system
Educating employees about management systems was one of the challenges that the Zoo faced. Some of the employees were unfamiliar with terms such as ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001. WRS invited experts and professors from university to deliver informal talks to address this. Once the staff understood the critical elements within each system, the organisation invested in training to educate them further.
Employees were also worried about extra work loads and the possibility of adding more paper work to their existing routines. Some were not confident that the systems could be implemented. The management team addressed all these issues during the training program. Training was seen as the critical part of the process to reduce uncertainty and anxiety during the implementation of the management systems.
Some of the areas that were explored during the training programs were:
a. Environmental aspects and impact
b. Developing a risk register in the area of OHS
c. Complying with local and international regulations
d. Internal control and audit mechanisms
The training instilled confidence in the employees and they were then empowered to do what was necessary to make things happen. Furthermore, the whole process was consultative and it was not forced by senior management.
Ms Lai says, ‘Anything is possible if you put your mind into it. As a non-profit organisation, our resources are also limited. However, our team members were able to pull it through together’.
The Zoo has managed to use management systems as part of its corporate strategy to achieve its mission and vision.
Why did WRS choose LRQA?
"Singapore Zoo was previously certified ISO 9001, but since the ISO 14001 was more appropriate for our business, we decided to pursue that as well. Hence, we decided to continue on the relationship with Lloyd's based on previous experience".
LRQA assessors understand our business and its challenges. Plus their assessment method is solely based on managing risks and improving business performance.
Further information can be obtained from Singapore Zoo’s website.