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Audit for Excellence

Daishowa-Marubeni is one of a number of Alberta firms voluntarily participating in an AFPA audit program covering all aspects of performance including sustainability.

By Robert Forrest
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Berry Heinen, woodlands manager for Daishowa-Marubeni International's (DMI) Peace River Division in northern Alberta, calls the company's recent achievement of ForestCare certification a tough but satisfying process.

"I think the most satisfying thing was completing an independent audit," Heinen says. "I've been in the forestry sector since 1971. It is the first time I have been audited in this end of the business. It is not something that we normally do. It was difficult to come up with protocols and measurements, but the results are very satisfying."

ForestCare is a voluntary program of the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA). It was developed with the cooperation and input of other community stakeholders in response to public concern about the performance of the Alberta forest industry. A unique feature of the program is that participating companies like DMI must submit their mills and woodlands operations to independent audits.

Search The ForestCare program is designed to ensure responsible industry performance in terms of environmental, economic and social values. It targets six broad areas: harvesting or timber sustainability; multiple or integrated land use; the environment, which includes waste management for both mills and woodlands; safety; community involvement; and overall sustainability.

"If you are talking about forest stewardship in a broad sense," says Bill Rugg, coordinator for the ForestCare program for AFPA, "then we think that ForestCare has more to offer our membership than do many of the other initiatives out there. This is primarily because ForestCare is focussed on the cost side of the business equation rather than the revenue side. Costs are common to all of our members. Markets and revenues are not common because they can pursue different markets and product niches."

According to Rugg, the ForestCare program has two goals: to improve performance in the six guiding principle areas and to communicate that improved performance to the public. "In essence, the whole program is based on these goals. If we can demonstrate and validate them within the local communities, we can keep the cost of doing business at a reasonable level. It is not like a total quality control system," he says.

When a company joins the AFPA, it becomes a signatory to the ForestCare program. Those companies who were members before November, 1994 can elect to be signatories, and many have done so. The signatory companies must commit themselves to following the Code of Practices of the program, in both mill and woodlands operations. Signatory members have two years to move to the next level of the program by becoming committed members. During that two years, they must complete an initial self-assessment, develop an action plan and set a date for a formal audit.

Search Committed members have three years to undergo the formal audit. The time is used to develop the necessary systems and to improve performance to an acceptable audit level. A company becomes certified when it receives a 75 per-cent score on the formal audit. Not all companies become certified on their first audit. Some will have to undergo a second audit after correcting deficiencies from the first one. Members who do not become certified remain committed members until they reach certified standards.

The audit is complex and detailed. It consists of 11 categories covering 72 codes of practices, which include 120 code elements divided into 360 specific performance benchmarks. Companies receive scores or ratings on three levels: currently acceptable practice (CAP) which represents existing government regulations and has a scoring range of 50 to 74 per cent; ForestCare level (FCL) with a scoring range of 75 to 99 per cent; and Alberta State of the Art with a score of 100 per cent. Not all benchmarks apply to all operations. There are unique situations facing pulp mills or sawmills which do not affect woodlands operations and vice versa.

There are 67 member companies in the AFPA. Some, like DMI, have several divisions, each of which must undergo its own audit process. There will be over 150 audits before the program has completed its first cycle through the membership. Of the 23 audits conducted thus far, not all resulted in certification. Some companies will have to undergo an additional audit. On October 31, 1996 the woodlands operations of DMI's Peace River Pulp Division passed its ForestCare audit, making the division officially ForestCare certified. DMI's Peace River pulp mill had passed its audit in the previous spring.

"We made a commitment to the ForestCare program in the fall of 1993," says DMI's Heinen. "Preparing for the audit put us in a position where we had to make some changes, particularly in the woodlands sector. For us, in terms of our pulp mill, it wasn't too difficult because it had an extensive environmental monitoring program, a safety program and a communications program with the community and its employees.'

For the woodlands, the audit preparation was much more difficult. New concerns emerged that had not been previously encountered.

"Take waste management in the logging group, for example," says Heinen. "We didn't have programs in place to measure things like waste oils and fuels. We never monitored things like that before. Under ForestCare, waste oil is a hazardous material. You have to follow the transportation of dangerous goods regulations in terms of handling, disposal and the records you keep."

The DMI woodlands operations now have a documented system that monitors the flow of new fuels and oils to a logging site and the return of waste to the bulk dealers for disposal. This includes monitoring how equipment operators change the oil on their equipment out on the worksite. Dumping used oil or garbage into a pit or a hole is no longer tolerated.

"Another program that really impacted our logging group was the safety program," Heinen continues. "In a large pulp mill operation, they have safe work procedures and practices in place, but we had never done that on the logging sites. We had to train workers in emergency evacuation procedures for injured workers. And we had to make certain they followed safe work practices around feller bunchers, skidders and other moving equipment."

Like other companies in Alberta which hold Forest Management Agreements (FMA) with the government, the Peace River Division of DMI has full responsibility for guaranteeing timber sustainability. The division has a biologist and several foresters who provide long-range forest management planning.

For ForestCare, the division undertook a new GIS computer-based inventory of its FMA. The division submits its plans to the government and holds public meetings for community input. A benefit of the ForestCare program has been the need to put in place new reporting systems, including related documentation. These systems cover the entire process, from the planning stage through to harvesting and logging inspections, according to Heinen. Government no longer provides regular logging site inspections but does continue with a formalized inspection once or twice a year.

The division's concern for other stakeholders includes the need for integration with First Nations communities in the area, some of whom have trapping rights on the company's FMA, a significant relationship on which DMI has to work. The other major user of DMI's FMA is the oil and gas industry. Recreational use in the FMA is primarily hunting in the fall and some sport fishing.

While the size of DMI's Peace River Division allows it to draw heavily on internal resources, smaller companies often don't have these built-in benefits. Spray Lake Sawmills (1980) Ltd. in Cochrane, Alberta was ForestCare certified as a result of a successful mill audit in June and a successful woodlands audit in September, 1996.

Gord Lehn, woodlands manager at Spray Lake, felt the process was tough but not impossible. "It's important not to re-invent the wheel,' he says. "It is important to develop policy systems. If you have concerns, ask others who have gone through the process. This isn't a competition. We can help each other.'

He pointed out that the AFPA offers help sessions for members. "These sessions help you understand what others have gone through and what the auditors expect. By preparing for your audit, you are improving your own operations."

Rugg is also high on the help sessions. He points out that it gives companies an opportunity to compare their performance with others in a non-competitive manner.

Scott Milligan, a district forester in the Peace River area, sat in on the audit process at DMI's Peace River Division. "The audit process was very credible," he says. "The company was open to the audit process and was concerned with doing a good job. They could improve how they get information out to the public, which is still unaware of ForestCare."

Rick Keillor, chair of the public advisory committee and an observer of the woodlands audit, is a farmer in the Peace River region. "The process is positive," he says of the audit. "It is a way of putting out yard sticks to measure performance. DMI is progressive and pro-active. But there was limited public involvement and it remains to be seen if the public will see the company that way."

Heinen suggests that if there is a negative to the audit process, it would be the conflict between regular duties and the amount of time spent on documentation for the audit process. "Having to end up with a system that is highly documented is sometimes non-productive time and that to me is the negative side," he says. "The positive aspect of it is the improvement. As it relates to safety within our contract workforce, waste management and environmental practices, I think we've improved. We've made some improvement in our systems and we've done some good training with our contractors. I think we have a better workforce because of it."

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