It ain’t easy being green but industry is adapting

From environmental polluters to patrons, many industrialists have realized that being green can help keep them out of the red

Last month saw two major local cement producers, Holcim Lebanon and Cimenterie Nationale, both acquire an ISO 14001 accreditation – the International Standard Organization’s guideline for environmental management tools – and later announce that they planned to invest more than $5 million over the next five years and $15 million in the next four years, respectively, for the amelioration of the environmental performance of their plants in Chekka, an area blighted by environmental problems.

In fact, since 1996, Lebanese industrialists have plowed more than $250 million into safeguarding the environment. The simple truth is that a sound environmental policy enhances productivity, reduces operating costs, improves sales, bolsters marketing efforts and creates a better working atmosphere. What is even more surprising is that Lebanese industrialists have taken the hint. “In our case, our $30 million investment in environmentally friendly equipment, which we have installed over the past 10 years, has allowed us to pollute less,” said Pierre Doumet, chairman and CEO of Cimenterie Nationale. “And since we are not polluting, this means that we are not tossing dust in the atmosphere, and dust is essentially production as it is either our raw material or our end product. Thus, instead of polluting our atmosphere with our end product, we are now recuperating it, recycling it and becoming more effective. It is a virtual cycle,” said Doumet, whose company exported 40% of its 1.6 million tons of cement produced in 2004.

There are currently nine companies in Lebanon that are ISO 14001 certified, with over 15 others set to get it, including Sibline, another local cement company. There are a further 12 companies working on cleaner production processes and over 40 others implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS) without being ISO certified. Nearly all of these environmentally friendly companies utilize their ISO 14001 certification and EMS.

“It is a means to enter into foreign markets and sell to consumers that opt for products that have not damaged the environment,” said Fadi Abboud, president of the Lebanese Industrial Association. However, Cimenterie Nationale is one of the few that went for the ISO 14001 certification for ethical and marketing reasons. “We decided to acquire the certification because the Lebanese tend not to believe their own people and we were continuously being accused of killing people by polluting. So we thought it would be better to have an international body to back our work for protecting the environment,” said Doumet who added that the certification was granted by the auditing department of the Association of German Cement Manufacturers. This new environmental trend within industrialists is likely to exponentially grow as it is the fruit of a decade of work orchestrated by a special environmental committee integrated within the Lebanese Industrial Association (LIA) – which is in direct partnership with the ministry of environment.

The environmental committee was created in 1994 with sole purpose to study the best environmentally friendly policy the industrial sector should adopt and then implement it. And when the committee found out in 1998 that ‘cleaner production’ was the best policy to espouse, it has since been working on helping companies throughout Lebanon understand the benefits of being environmentally friendly as well as drafting a common strategy that would make Lebanese industrialists abide by the international environmental standards and laws while making them more competitive. “We are planning to finish the final draft of this common strategy by February. It will explain what laws and standards to opt for, how to enforce the strategy through economical rewards by describing what should be the stick and the carrot for industrialists and how we will deal with industrial waste,” said Hisham Abou Jaoude, the secretary of the LIA’s environmental committee. “It will also include certain requests directed towards the Central Bank as well as the government.”

Changing the status quo

According to Abou Jaoude, one of the main problems hindering the adoption speed of EMS is caused by the lack of soft loans and the allocation of money for environmental purposes. “If I was to go to a bank and request a loan in order to implement EMS, the banker would simply stare at me astonishingly, as if I was insane,” said Abou Jaoude, “and we want to work with the Central Bank to find a way to change this mentality and help reduce interest rates on loans related to the environment.” A United Nations Environmental Protection (UNEP) study clearly illustrates the financing problem in Lebanon by stating that it is not beneficial for a firm to implement EMS or introduce cleaner production processes if loans are shadowed by an interest rate above 5%. “One of the main problems for small and medium sized (SMEs) companies is to find cash to invest in environmental policy and machinery. If you look at it coldly as an investor, maybe you don’t get an internal rate of return that warrants the investment purely on financial ground, but believe me it is still rewarding and is hugely satisfying on many other levels,” said Doumet.

Setting the bar

Being environmentally friendly has become a good benchmarking tool worldwide because if a company is reducing its waste, then it is also reducing it cost, which in turn makes the business more effective – due to the utilization of BAT (Best Available Technology) – and competitive. However, SMEs have a clear disadvantage in adopting environmentally friendly policies due to tough access to cash. SMITE, a Mediterranean information web-based node for the SMEs, will help improve competitiveness of SMEs through IT-based environmental business planning – a new tool that is expected to re-orient production processes, products and services; ensure and consolidate efficiency, quality, occupational health and safety and environmental performance; and increase productivity efficiency by reducing environmental burdening. The multi-party project will support SMEs of the food, textile and hotel sectors with up-to-date tools and access to environmental information.

Industrial Waste

“The common strategy drafted by LIA’s environmental committee plans to solve up to 70% of all national industrial waste through an intra-industry solution,” said Abou Jaoude. As an example, in 1994, the Ministry of Environment ordered Sidem, an aluminum production company, that it should treat the liquid waste that was polluting the shores of Kesrouan by purchasing a treatment plant. After investing $750,000 and being reassured by the ministry of environment that the sludge that will be produced by the treatment plant will be stored in a safe location, Sidem employees were ready to re-activate the plant. However, one problem emerged: the ministry of environment had not found a location to store the sludge and the treatment plant remained silent till 2004, when Sidem found a solution to their problem by entering into talks with Holcim Lebanon. After running several tests, Holcim discovered that the sludge that was produced by Sidem could be used as a raw material, allowing the environmentally friendly treatment plant to run. “This is the kind of intra-industry environmental partnership we want to introduce by setting a bank for industrial waste. And later on, we could also find solutions that would allow the industrial sector to solve household waste,” Abou Jaoude added. Abboud, who has been constantly pushing for the adoption of environmental policies, believes that all the steps that have been taken by his association and companies are a good start for the country’s environment. However, many problems are still widely present. “At the moment it is so very expensive to recycle in this country hence you would see whenever you are driving near the port of Beirut hundreds and hundreds of trucks filled with aluminum, steel, brass and copper because we cannot afford to recycle them if the ton of diesel is $400 and the ton of fuel is $500,” said Abboud. “All solutions with the environment start with industrialists because if we recycle what we should be recycling, then half of our problem would be solved. The government needs to understand this and lend us a firmer hand.”

What is ISO 14001 and EMS?

ISO 14001 is a standard in the ISO 14000 series that provides a specification for a complete and effective EMS. As a specification standard, it can be used as an audit tool, to evaluate whether an organization has a complete EMS in place. ISO 14001 specifies the elements and tools that must be in place for an EMS to be complete and effective.

These tools can provide significant tangible economic benefits, including reduced raw material/resource use; reduced energy consumption; improved process efficiency; reduced waste generation and disposal costs; and utilization of recoverable resources.

An EMS is a structure of connected elements that define how an organization manages its environmental impacts. These elements include policies, organizational structure, procedures, goals and objectives, and defined processes. In order to be effective, all of these various elements must work together cohesively and be a part of the overall business management system.

What EMS elements are required by ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 states that a comprehensive EMS must include the following elements or activities:

– Establishing an environmental policy

– Establishing environmental objectives and targets and implementing plans for meeting these

– Evaluating environmental aspects and impacts

– Identifying regulatory requirements and evaluating compliance with requirements – Defining roles and responsibilities

– Identifying and providing necessary training

– Communicating effectively

– Documenting processes that affect environmental impacts

– Controlling parameters that affect environmental impacts

– Evaluating which suppliers’ goods and services affect environmental impacts

– Preparing for emergency situations

– Monitoring and measuring critical environmental parameters

– Initiating corrective actions when problems occur

– Maintaining environmental records – Auditing the EMS

– Evaluating and reviewing the EMS to ensure it is effective, suitable, and adequate for your organization.

Does ISO 14001 set emissions or discharge limits?

Absolutely not. ISO 14001 helps organizations to develop and implement their own, unique environmental management system. You set your own policies, determine your own objectives and targets, and define your own procedures. Then your systems help you to meet your policy and objectives. ISO 14001 tells you what elements need to be in place; you decide exactly how to define and implement those elements.

What kind of organization can use ISO 14001?

ISO 14001 is intended for any kind of organization – business, school, hospital, non-profit, etc. – that wants to implement or improve its environmental management system. It applies equally well to both service and manufacturing organizations and to both non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses. ISO 14001 provides plenty of flexibility to do what’s right for your own unique organization.