Visit from Canfor Pulp exec helps sell employees on energy efficiency

Image of Canfor Pulp employees

'He made it very clear energy management is very important to this company'

It helps to have friends in high places.

When Brett Robinson spent more than an hour and a half at each of two employee Energy Awareness Days in September 2012, it made Stuart Gairns' job a whole lot easier.

At the time, Robinson was vice-president of Canfor Pulp Limited Partnership. Today he's the company president.

"When Brett spoke in support of our energy management program, he made it very clear that this — energy management — is very important to the company," recalls Gairns, energy leader for Canfor Pulp's Prince George and Intercontinental Mills. "And then he stayed to just hang out, too, talking to people and really looking at the displays. It was a great statement."

Food, prizes… and interesting ideas

Canfor Pulp held two awareness events — one at CPLP's Northwood Mill, organized by the company's other energy leader, Mike Todd, and one at Stuart's Intercontinental Mill for all PGI workers. Each featured a barbecue and six different display booths.

One challenge was that many of the three mills' 1,100 employees were off shift during the events. To encourage as many employees as possible to attend, there was a draw for two ENERGY STAR® flat-screen TVs to be held during the Energy Awareness Days.

To enter, all the employees had to do was complete a short quiz.

The displays included information about CPLP's own energy-saving projects, outreach booths from BC Hydro and FortisBC, and exhibits from lighting suppliers and other energy-related vendors.

"The food brought people in, but the booths gave them a reason to stay," says Gairns. "And they did. They stuck around and looked and talked. There were interesting things to see and engage with, and they gave people ideas about what kind of actions they could take to save energy — planting ideas for fixing air leaks, for example.

"It was fun, but really educational, too."

When employees talk, saving opportunities are born

Gairns says that years ago, anytime there was an area shutdown at a mill, employees would shut off agitators, pumps and other equipment that supports the paper machine.

"But then we got lazy for some reason and simply left them on," he says. "Now, through employee awareness about wasting energy, we turn them off again."

"People know that, in the pulp and paper industry, the ones who survive are the ones who are the most efficient, and energy is a major cost input," adds Gairns. "Most of CPLP's employees are shareholders so they have a vested interest. But it's also the right thing to do, and our people want to be good stewards."

Pickup converted to run on electricity is a hit

Adding to the flavour of the day at Intercontinental, mill employee Joe Leclerc brought the pickup truck he had converted from gas to electricity.

Then-VP Robinson was so impressed, he sent Leclerc an email right after the event saying: "I was amazed by the quality conversion... but not surprised it was your work! It was a wonderful, ad hoc addition to today's event and really cool."

For Leclerc, the conversion was a fun way to learn about the likes of lithium batteries and electric vehicles in general.

"Driving it every day is just a blast," he says. "I plug it in and the 'tank' is always full."

"People were very positive," says Gairns, "and many said thanks for organizing such a great event. There are lots of no- and low-cost ways to save energy out there if we just do things in a different way and now we've got everybody thinking about it more and more."

Keeping up the conversation: newsletters, suggestion boxes & more

In addition to the two September events, energy leaders Gairns and Todd have found the following to be helpful:

  • A contest to design the logo for the CPLP energy management program
  • A quarterly newsletter that features energy-saving ideas, stories about energy-efficiency projects and statistics on mill energy use
  • An energy savings suggestion box
  • Meetings with all operating teams at the three mills.

Energy awareness is now also part of the training for summer employees at the mills. "And I hope it will become part of our regular training as well," says Gairns.

Acting on employee suggestions is key

"People are skeptical if they do not see immediate results, and sometimes things take way longer than they think they should, so it's up to me to make sure I keep people informed," says Gairns.

The news is good. Gairns sees the culture changing, in large part because management is in tune with energy efficiency and actively seeks ways to support it.

"They also appreciate all the help, particularly the financial incentives, offered by BC Hydro," he says. "Let's face it, pulp mills are really large consumers and it's time we did this."

Hot tip for other industrial energy managers

"Employee awareness could be a full-time job, but you just don't have time." says Gairns. "Focus on where you get the best exposure for your time, like piggy-backing on an existing structure — get on the list to do a 15-minute presentation at the quarterly business review meeting for example."