Spruce Falls is a trailblazer, being the first sawmill/woodlands operation in Ontario to meet the ISO 14001 environmental standard.
By Dave Lemmers
Spruce Falls Inc recently celebrated the groundbreaking achievement of becoming the first sawmill and woodlands operations in Ontario to be registered with having an environment management system that conforms to the ISO 14001 environmental standard. The operation is not standing pat with this significant accomplishment, however. Officials with the northern Ontario forestry operation say most of the work lies ahead in finding new ways to protect the environment and thereby continuing to raise the bar for other companies who seek to follow in their path. Spruce Falls Inc, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tembec Inc, received ISO 14001 certification this past June following external audits of the sawmill and woodlands operations, as well as the newsprint operation, all located in Kapuskasing, Ontario. The company does not take environmental stewardship lightly, says Gord Munnoch, director of energy and environment at Spruce Falls. "Achieving this registration provides us with credibility in the marketplace, that we are taking our environmental responsibility seriously." Munnoch says the drive to put an environmental management system (EMS) in place was a result of both customer demand and a movement within the company for an increased commitment to the environment. He says more customers are taking an interest in the environmental performance of their suppliers, a trend he expects will continue as governments adopt a reduced role in regulating industry and as adoption of ISO 14001 catches on. He adds that being proactive in protecting the environment is the way of the future and will help society as a whole renew its trust in the forest industry. "This kind of registration, once what it means is better understood, will provide a level of comfort to environmental groups, customers and the general public that the company is following a path of protecting the environment. And we want to be leading the pack rather than be the last one in the pack." ISO 14001 is a recognized international standard with accredited auditors located around the world. Auditors first perform a registration audit, identifying any major and minor nonconformance in a company's operations. Auditors also perform surveillance audits on an annual basis to ensure companies not only continue to meet standards, but establish new objectives aimed at continual improvement. Beginning three years ago, every activity of the Spruce Falls organization was reviewed and ranked with a "risk score" based on its potential impact on the environment. The company has its own internal auditors who subjected the operation to a kind of practice exam. "We find all the skeletons in our own closets before the outsiders come," says Munnoch. "This becomes our own internal checklist." He adds that being the first Ontario forest products company to attain the ISO 14001 standard in its sawmill and woodlands operations was a challenge. There were few points of reference and no one to consult with who had gone through the process in Ontario. "In that regard, we're breaking some new ground," says Munnoch. A team of auditors spent several days at Spruce Falls reviewing operations and checking for documentation, including future objectives and proper measurement tools for those objectives. "They talked to workers and supervisors and senior management, and they looked at the paper work. They toured the site and stopped people at random for discussions," says Munnoch. No major nonconformance was identified in the registration audit which has since generated "plenty of phone calls" from other companies seeking advice on the registration process. One minor nonconformance was identified in the sawmill upon EMS registration. It was immediately cleared up by adding documentation related to the proposed timing of achieving an objective.
The eightfoot stud mill turns out product from 1x3 up to 2x6, and has a current capacity of 120 million board feet per year. Up to 50 per cent of the lumber is sold in the US and the biggest Canadian market is in Toronto. The sawmill was built in 1995 at a cost of $45 million, and is located on the same site as the newsprint mill which it supplies with 150,000 tonnes of wood chips a year. The sawmill has approximately 150 employees and runs three shifts with two saw lines, two lineal bunch slashers and three debarkers. The mill also has two dry kilns. The Spruce Falls sawmill runs a canter/ twincanter/bull edger on its large saw line; the smaller line uses a Compact 242 fabricated by Quebec based Boreal Hydraulique. In 1997, an upgrade of the Softac cant optimizer led to a 10 per cent increase in recovery. The mill has a large yard for log storage because of an unusually short hauling season. "We're in the Great White North and if it's not white, it's brown with mud," says Gord Wilson, general manager of sawmill operations. Wilson says internal dust control and hydraulic oil spills were two areas identified from within for improvement prior to registration. The biggest environmental issue in the sawmill has been the dust caused by planer shavings in the hog room. Installing another bag house to filter the air has been proposed as one solution. For the short term, the problem has been controlled with more frequent cleanups and by keeping workers out of the room during operation. "It's still an enclosed area with a high particulate count," says Wilson. To control hydraulic oil spills in the sawmill, all hydraulic units are located in the basement and diked to prevent spillage into the mill's sewer and drainage systems. New emergency equipment, such as absorbent pads to soak up spills and plug and dike kits to plug a hole in a fuel tank or hydraulic oil tank on the mobile equipment, was acquired. All mobile equipment associated with sawmill operations is stored away from the drainage systems in the log yard.
Training was conducted in small groups for sawmill employees, beginning with four hours of general EMS training, followed up with job specific training. EMS manuals placed in the mill detail fuel handling and spill procedures, containment, cleanup, reporting and development of an action plan to avoid future spills. Wilson adds that EMS is really about a fundamental shift in thinking towards environmental awareness, a shift required on the part of all employees. "It has caused us to take a look at the way we do things," he says. Developing an EMS for the woodlands was an even greater challenge, largely because of the unique features of the Gordon Cosens Forest-one of the wettest forests in all of Canada-situated in the middle of the great clay belt and part of the James Bay lowlands. Spruce Falls Inc is responsible for carrying out the planning for the entire Gordon Cosens Forest, a 1.6million hectare area, although the EMS applies only to the company's operations within the forest. The company's approximately 100 to 150 employees harvest 750,000 cubic metres a year, or 65 per cent of the total allowable harvest. The forest is 65 to 70 per cent peatland, with the balance being upland or mixed forests of aspen, white birch, black and white spruce, balsam fir and jackpine. "Because such a high percentage of this forest are peatland sites, obviously the risk of causing site disturbance is greater," says Kent Virgo, forestry planning manager, west. He added that an abundance of creeks and rivers means water-crossing issues must be incorporated into the woodlands EMS.
A major woodlands objective in 1999 was reducing the risk of significant site disturbance in the area of operations. Actions employed to meet this objective included: defining guidelines for periods of shutdown during wet periods in the spring and the fall when the risk of site disturbance is highest; developing a system to ensure timely purchasing and installation of 68inch wide tires for skidders; developing a procedure for skidding across drainage ways; reducing the lag time between the cutting and skidding phases in low areas; and controlling the support traffic employed for fueling and maintenance. A scoring system was developed and annual aerial photographs monitor site disturbance, measured by blackened areas on photos. Another objective in the woodlands operations was fuel spill risk reduction. This was done through updating the fueling infrastructure, ensuring that it meets all provincial standards. One objective involved reducing gasoline-handling risks in the bush, which was achieved through switching more vehicles to diesel.
This lengthened the time between refuels and reduced the number of refuels in the bush. Like the sawmill workers, all woodlands employees received EMS training and the company continues to take advantage of seasonal shutdowns to update training. "You set one year's objectives and you move on as you are successful," says Virgo. "It's an ongoing process of dealing with issues and reevaluating them. At some point in time, an issue you previously dealt with will again come to the top of the pile. That's how continual improvement with our ISO system works." Environmental director Gord Munnoch stresses that staff at all levels of the company have had to commit to the environmental management system to make it work. In addition to employee training, Spruce Falls Inc has established EMS environment management committees in the sawmill, woodlands and newsprint operations that meet on a monthly basis and determine any corrective action required on all planned objectives. Crew meetings with workers are held at least monthly and special attention is paid to ensure new employees receive training. "The process will work, provided you've got commitment from the top down. That's key," says Munnoch. "Keeping (ISO registration) will not be any easier than getting it. You've got to maintain that focus on getting better all the time ."
This page and all contents
©1996-2007 Logging and Sawmilling
Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.
page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004