Green dreams

Posted on 18 Apr 2008 by The Manufacturer

An environmental strategy is all well and good, but it needs to be turned into action. Debbie Giggle reports on how companies are turning green corporate goals into profit making reality

Many manufacturers have an environmental strategy, whether this is a simple wish-list, or a detailed set of targets. More difficult though is turning a strategy document into actions and quantifiable results. Perhaps most challenging of all, is getting everyone to focus on energy and environment, when the collective thinking of the organisation has traditionally been fixed on productivity and profit.
A key element in this, of course, is structure. How can a company create a ‘green skeleton’ that will hold the environmental activities together, engage individuals towards common aims, and provide a mechanism for ongoing improvement and the management of specific projects?
Artenius is a global manufacturer of polyester, polyester intermediates, fibres and yarns, with a production facility based in Wilton, Middlesborough. Having changed hands on a number of occasions, the company has experienced periods of ownership under ICI and Dupont.
Chris Lakin from Artenius’s Beyond World Class Group commented: “The underlying structure for managing environmental activities has actually been in place at the site for a number of years and has not changed fundamentally as a result of mergers and acquisitions. We’ve enhanced some things, but the skeleton remains essentially the same.
“Because of the nature of our business, our environmental, health and safety, and plant operations objectives are all part of one and the same continuous improvement strategy.”
The Artenius structure comprises a central link pin/interfacing role combined with individual and team responsibilities for meeting environmental targets and managing projects.
“We have an environment manager who interprets incoming pieces of legislation by working in collaboration with external bodies such as the Environment Agency,” explained Lakin. “The role also encompasses working with stakeholders such as the local community.
“Understanding the direction that future legislation will take is important. We don’t want to be in a situation where legislation is forcing us to act, and regulatory issues are an essential factor in capital investment decisions. But it’s our conscience that’s the driver, not the legislation.”
Work towards environmental targets is managed in exactly the same way as plant efficiency targets, in a format that almost all manufacturers with a continuous improvement culture will immediately recognise.
A series of metrics and KPIs relating to environmental performance have been identified and shift teams work towards these in day-today operations. There is also a programme of projects in place to make step changes.
Levels of health and safety/environmental performance are categorised according to five separate levels of seriousness. These range from Category A (which would be a major incident with external impact) down to Category E, referred to as a learning event. This might be a nearmiss where a problem could have arisen but was avoided.
Lakin is quick to point out that incidents are most likely to fall into the low risk or learning event categories, but all issues are dealt with under the same guidelines. The senior team meets on a weekly basis to review the reports with the site’s safety manager. Each meeting follows the same agenda: health and safety performance, followed by environmental issues, and concluding with a review of plant operations and OEE.
The meetings are a two-way process. Findings are fed back into the development of future strategy, and a bulletin is created each week detailing actions arising from the events. This information is cascaded through the organisation. In the case of a relatively serious incident the plant manager will speak face to face with every employee across every shift. For learning events however, the senior team will brief shift managers who, in turn, communicate with individual employees within their teams. All communication is carried out face-to-face and a strict time schedule is applied to ensure that all information is cascaded within the week to cover all shifts at the 24 hour operation.
“It’s a well-used phrase,” said Lakin, “but communication is the key. It’s about how often issues are discussed, how information is cascaded, and how individuals are engaged in the improvement activities.
“It’s no good putting important information like this in an email where it can be overlooked, or on a notice board where it can be missed. And sporadic or quarterly face-to-face briefings are just too infrequent.
“When the same issues are discussed every week, the importance of these areas is absolutely clear to all. Individuals know what the priorities are, and understand their role in achieving them.
“People outside our industry might feel this seven-day cycle for review and communication is a bit over the top, as it heavily involves the senior team, and engineers regularly take time out of their day-to-day work to discuss these issues. But performance in the three areas of health and safety, environment and plant efficiency are central to our ongoing viability as a site.”
A key difference between plant efficiency and environmental performance projects, however, is the nature of the stakeholders. Environmental activities have a more public face, and this brings additional organisational challenges. Communication with internal personnel (and even externally with board members and shareholders) can be more easily controlled than liaison with the general public. So what sorts of organisational models can a manufacturer apply to structure environmental projects with a broad stakeholder base?
The Speke facility of multi-national pharmaceutical company Lilly is a bulk manufacturer of antibiotics. It has 19 fermentation vessels, each with a capacity of 150,000 litres. All of the fermentation operations carried out at the site require large volumes of filtered air to be passed through the fermentation media in order for the processes to work. This air (or off-gas) used to be released into the atmosphere. Although the company was within its regulatory limits, as part of its continuous improvement programme it decided that, given its location in a mixed residential/industrial area, it needed to invest resources to address odour issues. Approximately 20,000 people live within a one-mile radius of the facility, with a further 600 residential properties in the process of construction in a new local housing development.
The policy at the site is to encourage participation of employees at all levels in environmental issues. The organisational structure adopted for the odour abatement project reflected that, with around 20 per cent of the site’s working population participating in odour-control related activities during the investigational phase. Examples of activities include odour monitoring tours, membership of an odour panel for on-site quantifying of the effects of the treatment, and direct involvement with design, procurement and regulatory issues. The odour panel saw the project through to completion in collaboration with an independent consultant.
Traditional cost justification exercises were inappropriate as the odour abatement facility, which cost £5 million, offered no financial return. A key KPI however was the number of external odour complaints received per year.
As the project was so ‘community-facing’ the organisational structure reflected the role of external shareholders. From early on in the project the company engaged local people by inviting them to the site, writing letters and newsletters, and carrying out door-to-door campaigns. A community liaison panel was set up involving neighbours, local community leaders, politicians and the Environment Agency. A large number of local people helped with odour surveys and 22 neighbours became more deeply involved, compiling ‘odour diaries’ lasting 12 weeks over two consecutive years. These assisted Lilly in building odour profiles.
Four potential technologies were identified for pilot trials, and the final solution is a twostage scrubbing system which intercepts and treats around 95,000 square metres of off-gas per hour prior to release to atmosphere from a 34 metre stack.
Judged against internal KPIs, the project has fulfilled its objectives. In 2000, the site received 89 external odour complaints. Since the facility was commissioned and opened in September 2003 the site has not received a single odourrelated complaint.
At the time of project development, no UK guidelines existed for the odour abatement equipment under discussion, so odour dispersion modelling was employed to define a performance specification in line with challenging standards set in Holland and Germany. Guidelines have since been defined by the UK Environment Agency for this application. The performance of the installation at Speke exceeds these expectations and is thought to represent best available technology for the large scale fermentation industry.
In conclusion, the trickiest challenges specific to environmental projects can tend to revolve, for manufacturers, around metrics, cost-justification and the nature of stakeholders, while many disciplines are equally applicable whether the project has environmental or productivity improvement outcomes. Best practice approaches to communication, project management, assignment of individual roles and engagement of personnel, for example, have very little difference.
A key consideration, however, is clarity for all those involved. Environmental issues may be an integral part of a single continuous improvement programme, discussed and reviewed every day. Or there may be a major step change project given a high profile and dedicated resource. The challenge is deciding how and where environmental activities sit within an individual business. Until a structure exists to clarify the priorities and channel efforts, the environmental aspirations of a company can only ever remain green dreams.