Looking after the Environment

The production of steel at New Zealand Steel is a unique and innovative process, that uses many of the resources found in the local environment including air, water, electricity, coal, ironsand and the land on which the mill is located. In addition to the Glenbrook steelmaking operation, the New Zealand Steel business includes two ironsand mines and a beam fabrication plant (Steltech). As with any industrial or mining activity, New Zealand Steel’s activities have an effect on the environment. The company takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and has demonstrated commitment to the environment by implementing a formal Environmental Management System (EMS) which aims to avoid or minimise the environmental effect of its operations. In this paper, we’ll explain the concept of an Environmental Management System and why implementing one is so important.

Environmental Management System (ISO14001)

As people become more aware that the world's natural resources are finite, companies and communities are being pressured to improve their environmental performance, to protect natural resources for future generations and maintain biological diversity in ecosystems. New Zealand Steel became certified to ISO14001 in 2003, and auditing by accredited external auditors will be ongoing. An Environmental Management System (EMS) provides a company with a structured process to improve its environmental performance. This in turn has many benefits for the environment, the community and the company's reputation as a responsible commercial organisation. It is important for a company such as New Zealand Steel, which uses many natural resources, to have a formal EMS to control and minimise the environmental effect of its activities. Many companies also find that establishing an EMS and thinking about their processes and products, opens doors to improvements that reduce costs. New Zealand Steel's EMS was established in 1990 when it launched an Environmental Policy. Since then, the company has been implementing components of the EMS, including incorporating controls and monitoring programmes already established before 1990. The emphasis of all Environmental Management Systems is on continual review and improvement.

Key components of New Zealand Steel's EMS include:

  • A High Level Commitment: The company has stipulated in its Environmental Policy that it is committed to continuous improvement in environmental performance. The policy provides direction for the development of objectives and targets.
  • Involving the Whole Company: The company has established an organisational structure involving all levels of staff through which it implements its environmental policy and improvement objectives. Managers are responsible for ensuring that management systems and procedures are in place and maintained to provide consistent compliance with environmental legislation and regulation. The managers are also required to develop and implement plans for continuous improvement of environmental performance. All company employees are encouraged to take responsibility in enhancing environmental performance, even if it is an action as small as turning off a running hose.
  • Assessing Environmental Effects: A full assessment of the environmental effects of each of the Company's operations has been undertaken in the past. Emissions and discharges are also monitored regularly to ensure continued compliance with resource consent conditions.
  • Setting Objectives and Targets: Performance targets have been set by the Company and are continually reviewed and often made more stringent. Many targets set by New Zealand Steel assist in reducing waste and improving energy efficiency.
  • Operational Control: To ensure compliance with environmental conditions - set in the resource consents - production personnel develop operating procedures which outline how certain processes operate. There are also standards which apply to each Company site for management of wastes and hazardous substances.
  • Keeping Records: Records are maintained of all environmental monitoring results and any special environmental studies conducted periodically.
  • Partnership with the Community: An important aspect of the programme is the creation of a community Environmental Committee in 1970. The Committee is made up of representatives from local grower organisations, territorial authorities, the Health Board and senior company managers. The committee meets regularly to review the company's environmental performance and to discuss environmental issues arising from the Glenbrook operations.

Gaining Consent to Use Natural Resources

Gaining Consent to Use Natural Resources in New Zealand, the Resource Management Act (1991) places requirements on companies to manage the effects they have on the physical and natural environment. Prior to the current legislation the company's activities were subject to the Clean Air Act, Water and Soil Conservation Act and Town and Country Planning Act. It was this legislation which set controls for discharges to the environment. For New Zealand Steel, the challenge of complying with strict environmental conditions set by the regulatory authorities throughout its life, has been met head on. Care has been taken in controlling the effects of each operation, including: extracting ironsand; use of water, air and raw materials; discharge to air of gases and dusts and waste disposal. During the 1980s expansion of the steelmaking operation the company invested more than $200 million on environmental controls, introducing sophisticated systems to control noise, air and water pollution. Also, the disposal of solid waste products has required the development of a site landfill and carefully managed systems to segregate wastes. A significant proportion of the ongoing annual capital expenditure is devoted to improving environmental performance.

Resource Consents

The Resource Management Act requires companies to obtain resource consents for activities which are not permitted by regional or district plans. The process of gaining resource consents ensures the company's activities are properly controlled. For the Glenbrook site, water and air discharge permits are granted by the Auckland Council, which also controls noise levels, waste disposal and storage of hazardous substances. Water take permits are granted by Waikato Regional Council. At the Waikato North Head and Taharoa mining sites resource consents are granted by Waikato Regional Council. Resource consents are applied for before an activity is started and are renewed periodically. When resource consents come up for renewal New Zealand Steel has the opportunity to review its performance with the community and regulatory authorities. The process of applying for (or renewing) resource consents includes consultation with the community to ensure any issues or concerns are identified and, where possible, resolved. Through the process of evaluating the environmental effects of an activity, specific standards, limits and requirements are set to ensure that any adverse effects on the local environment are minimised. New Zealand Steel has resource consents for:

  • Discharges to air
  • Extracting fresh water
  • Discharging treated wastewater and stormwater into water
  • Discharging water containing wastes onto land (mining)
  • Operation of a landfill for nonhazardous wastes