Pulp and paper company focuses on employee energy awareness

Nina Winham

Last month, employees at Howe Sound Pulp and Paper were invited to a barbecue on the company's tab. It was a great sunny day with burgers served up by senior management; it was also the official launch of Howe Sound's Employee Energy Awareness Program.

"We had conducted an energy management assessment to look at how we manage energy, control consumption, monitor usage, and so on," says Gary Fors, Howe Sound's Energy Specialist. "Our senior management group has committed to a Sustainable Energy Management Plan (SEMP), which really means at all levels of the organization, we're looking at ways of reducing our energy consumption and our energy cost. So the employee awareness program here at the mill was our next step."

Howe Sound is an integrated kraft pulp and paper manufacturer located in Port Mellon, B.C. Some of its processes are highly energy intensive – particularly thermomechanical pulping, making the mill one of BC Hydro's larger customers.

Employees key to savings

The goal with an employee awareness program is to maximize the potential energy savings that can be achieved through technological upgrades and process improvements. Neither of these tends to yield lasting results unless employees are aware of energy conservation, and are supportive of a company's energy management goals.

Behavioural changes go beyond remembering to switch off lights and equipment (though those are important) to include routinely operating equipment in its most efficient range, maintaining equipment for peak performance, and keeping an eye out for energy drains (i.e. leaks in compressed air systems).

"It's critical that the employees, that everyone at the mill feel that they have the ability to make effective changes, that they can actually reduce our energy consumption," says Fors. "I think that's where we're going to see the most success, when we have people not just turning lights off at night, but when the operators and the maintenance groups all realize the impact they can have on energy reduction and energy efficiency, that's where our biggest benefit is going to come from."

Ideas for work and for home

At the barbecue launch event, BC Hydro sent a Power Smart Outreach team to discuss energy conservation with employees and provide ideas for saving energy both at work and at home. They also collected ideas from employees for improvements the mill could consider. The ideas will be handed to Howe Sound's newly formed "Energy Management Team" – a cross-functional group that will receive training from BC Hydro and develop the next steps in the company's sustainable energy management plan.

"That team will lead the charge," says Fors. "They'll determine what the goals are, and also further develop the employee awareness program, about how to engage and get employees in the know."

Fors says energy management will become part of a larger effort at Howe Sound.

"One of the management philosophies we have here is that we like our business practices to be all-encompassing," he says. "We don't want to have a separate safety program, environmental program, and energy program; we want to have a business management program. Our goal is to try to build business practices that encompass all the key factors."

Fors says good energy management matters to him personally – and it's important for the company's health too.

"I remember the energy crunch during the 70s. I think my generation were, and still are, huge energy users. But these energy sources are finite, so we have a social responsibility to consume them wisely and use them efficiently.

"Meanwhile, energy efficiency, energy reduction and conservation, they absolutely affect the bottom line. So this affects our competitiveness and our dollars per tonne, which is important if we want to remain in business. When we engage employees, it comes down to how many dollars did we save and how does that affect our ability to make a profit. That's what's going to keep us in business."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and frequent contributor to the Current industrial newsletter.

Source: BC Hydro News