Howe Sound and Pulp limited Partnership

Community Roots for a Century

Howe Sound Pulp and Paper Limited was established through a partnership between Canfor Corporation of Canada and Oji Paper Company Ltd. As industry giants, the two companies had the ability to stabilize a mill that would have otherwise reached the end of its life span.

The original Port Mellon mill first produced B.C.’s wood-fibre based paper in 1909. Al Strang, Manager of Environment and External Affairs says that in his 20 years at the mill, there have always been efforts made to stay current, and innovative.

Strang has been through many ups and downs of the mill’s history, and has observed the growth of the mill throughout the last two decades. “The partnership between Canfor and Oji originally resulted because Canfor bought the mill in 1951 and needed to renovate by the 1980s. But they didn’t have the resources to do it. So Oji came along, hoping to expand their business in North America at the time. Yes, we’ve been manufacturing at the site for 100 years, but we have always had state-of-the-art facilities” says Strang. 

The environmental shift of business
The original modernization and expansion project in the ‘90s cost $1.3 billion, and since then Howe Sound has established itself as a North American leader in newsprint and kraft pulp manufacture. The mill at How Sound has an annual production capacity of 400,000 tonnes of pulp and 230,000 tonnes of newsprint. However, Strang estimates that the products coming out of the mill will grow and evolve, simply because of the environmental shift to “go paperless”.

“There has been a decline in magazine grade papers because of the internet, so we are trying to align ourselves with tissue makers. We’re looking at the various fibers that we use, and trying to make ourselves a good fit for different businesses – so we can continue to have a strong customer base.”
Howe Sound, through its century-old lifecycle, has become an integral part of the community. The company has built a solid reputation for product excellence and ecological leadership, and is tightly woven into the social fabric of the entire Sunshine Coast community in B.C. Sustainability shapes the Howe Sound business. Strang says “we’re the biggest employer by far in the community. And that has a big impact in the community. People understand that Howe Sound is part of the social fabric in the community. We bring a lot to community, not just economic stability. We work with local groups, like hockey coaches and scouts. What we provide aside from the economics is often overlooked, so that’s why we go out to promote and talk to those groups. I personally attend council meetings, talk about what’s going on, and help them informed to make good business and political decisions”.

Paper and people
Recently, a local television station did a segment on Howe Sound called “Pulp, Paper, and People” showcasing employees talking about the efforts they make in the community. Strang says that the piece was really well-received, especially because the cable company putting on the show approached Howe Sound, not the other way around. “They approached us, which is a great sign of how other businesses recognize the things we bring to the community.”

Of course, being in the paper industry, Howe Sound has to be cognizant of the environmental impacts they have in the local community and beyond. Strang assures that environmental commitment is built into the mill’s culture. To date, the mill has made leaps and bounds in regards to its environmental commitments.

“When the mill was modernized in the late ‘80s, the president made a decision that the mill would have the most up to date environmental controls. We’ve carried that forward, and pride ourselves on being an environmental leader – not only in the industry, in the province, or in the country but worldwide” Strang says. He adds that the mill’s “greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of product is almost 90% lower than what those emissions were in 1990, which was the Kyoto baseline”. Currently, the mill is doing better than Canada’s target for greenhouse emissions.

Looking out for mill workers
Although the mill had to temporarily lay off workers from December 24th – January 5th, the company is working to avoid any other fall-outs from the economic turndown that would affect the mill’s workers. “We are doing everything we can to drive costs out of business, to free up working capital, and keep cash flowing” Strang says. Howe Sound is currently looking at strategic alliances with different customers in different customer segments, in order to keep business on the up-and-up.

The future looks bright for Howe Sound, as they gear up for a busy year. The company plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the mill with the community that is such an important part of Howe Sound’s success. There are plans to mark the celebration, which will take place this coming October, with art contests and cultural festivities. Howe Sound unveiled its centennial logo on October 14th, 2008 to help create a buzz around the upcoming momentous occasion.

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