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PRODUCTION VS ENVIRONMENT: WHY THE DEBATE?


July 1, 2000
By Pulp & Paper Canada

One of the environmental challenges at pulp and paper mills is getting people in the mill to understand each other and cooperate in day to day operations. Historically, environmental personnel were of…

One of the environmental challenges at pulp and paper mills is getting people in the mill to understand each other and cooperate in day to day operations. Historically, environmental personnel were often seen as “enforcers” who check how others are doing their job and treating the environment. The environmental “police”, as they were sometimes called, demanded changes in practices or habits that were influencing the mill’s environmental performance. For example, at some mills there is still an ongoing debate between production staff and environmental staff relating to losses of black liquor and fibre to the effluent treatment facility. The environmental goal is to reduce BOD / TSS loading and chemical losses to the treatment facility so that it can operate more effectively. However, from a production point of view this can sometimes be seen as cumbersome and there may not be much motivation to change old production habits unless there is a clear (and enforced) policy from senior management. This top-level environmental enforcement is now happening at more and more mills every year because it reduces operational costs as well as protects the environment.

Basically, companies will not be able to operate in a wasteful manner in the future. That message is becoming clearer every day due to the need to cut operational costs and become more competitive. Strong environmental pressures, regulations and the implementation of environmental management systems are other key driving forces to become more “eco-efficient”. Poor environmental performance is costly and has an indirect negative effect on shareholder value.

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A re-occurring example is the high operational cost for effluent treatment facilities that are overloaded or regularly affected by chemical and fibre loads from the mill. The treatment plant can regularly be out of compliance with environmental regulations and have higher than usual costs due to:

sludge handling and disposal;

nutrient addition and energy;

consultants brought in for troubleshooting;

dredging of basins due to sludge accumulation;

potential litigation costs for non-compliance (fines, legal costs, expert witnesses)

I am told that the cost of operating a problematic treatment plant can be in excess of $10 per tonne of product produced.

The cost savings that are related to good environmental management is changing attitudes in the pulp and paper industry. The level of environmental awareness of operators and management is increasing due to the implementation of environmental management systems and personal responsibility for environmental issues. The challenge for many companies will be long-term planning to become more eco-efficient, this in an industry that has a record for operating in a short-term gain mode to provide immediate shareholder value.

A good example of the changing environmental values of companies can be seen in some of the corporate environmental reports, such as the one published by Louisiana-Pacific Inc. called “L-P Clear Results”. The small report is filled with stories of environmental and safety improvements and successes such as:

The substantial reduction in releases of toxic compounds as identified by the US EPA

Environmental awards received by some L-P facilities

The declining level of government inspections and enforcement actions

The increasing levels of recycling and energy recovery, and the declining volume of waste produced

The development of environmental management systems and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Program

The decrease in recordable safety incidents

Safety highlights and achievements.

One of the key environmental moves for L-P has been inviting a well-known environmental conservationist to sit on the Board of Directors and provide input on corporate decisions. The individual is Paul W. Hansen, Executive Director of the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA). The IWLA was founded in 1922 “to save outdoor America for future generations” and was named for 17th-century English angler-philosopher Izaak Walton who wrote “The Compleat Angler”. The IWLA organized the first water pollution inventory in the US in 1927 and helped pass the first federal water pollution control act in the 1940’s. I see this appointment by L-P as a new standard for environmentally-conscious companies. This type of initiative will help raise the level of environmental awareness of senior managers and company owners so that environmental protection and conservation are factored into major decisions.

Some companies outside of the pulp and paper sector (i.e. automotive) have realized years ago that good environmental performance and good environmental marketing is vital to the success of a corporation. It makes money and has much shareholder value. Almost everyone on this planet wants to protect the environment. Therefore, corporations need to show and communicate that they are making voluntary and pro-active efforts in environmental protection.

To improve environmental performance and help change old habits, certain mills have set internal “regulations” or performance indicators for process stream quality. This involves more on-line monitoring of process streams throughout the mill (i.e. pH, turbidity, conductivity, flow) to detect losses or spills and their sources. This enables the company to make individual departments accountable for their losses. Some mills are now applying effluent treatment costs to mill departments who are causing excessive loadings or spills to the treatment facility. This type of system, when enforced by senior management, can be very effective in controlling operations, protecting the effluent treatment plant, and reducing operational costs.

I see a need for using environmental cost accounting to help mills identify and reduce high environmental operational costs and identify the pay-back of sound environmental investments. Over the years, millions have been wasted due to poor environmental decisions and a lack of vision of future environmental requirements. Short-term savings on environmental issues (i.e. the cheap fix approach) have often been translated into long-term operational costs at $X/ton due to ongoing problems. As the saying goes “You have to spend money to make money”. More pulp and paper companies are now realizing that money spent wisely up front to improve environmental performance will result in lower operational costs, significant shareholder value and improved public image.


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