Heyfield mill takes out key awards

THE Heyfield-based Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH), the largest hardwood mill in Australia, has taken out two key prizes at the Victorian Association of Forest Industries’ 2013 annual dinner.

ASH won the Local Community Engagement and Occupational Health and Safety Awards, and was one of several Gippsland forestry companies that tasted success.

The others were Australian Paper in the Latrobe Valley, which won the Innovation Award for its $90 million investment in a recycled pulp mill at Maryvale; Fenning Bairnsdale which took out the Environmental Sustainability Award for its installation of 396 solar panels; and HVP Plantations in the Latrobe Valley which also received an Occupational Health and Safety Award.

VAFI chief executive Lisa Marty said ASH had developed a safety culture. This was highlighted by the priority given to safety issues at board and executive meetings, and the large investment in upgrading safety systems, equipment and staff training last year and this year, she said.

Ms Marty said with 217 employees at the mill, more than half the local jobs in Heyfield were in the forest and wood products sector. The mill’s operations contributed nearly $6 million to local businesses in the past year.

“ASH favours local procurement, an end-of-year ‘thank you’ scheme for employees involves providing staff with vouchers for local businesses,” she said.

Australian Paper’s recycled pulp mill will generate 50,000 tonnes of premium recycled fibre each year. Ms Marty said this would divert up to 85,000 tonnes of waste paper from landfill the equivalent of about 17 billion sheets of A4 office paper each year.

“Besides having a range of environmental benefits, the project will keep manufacturing jobs in the Latrobe Valley,” she said. Once in operation, Ms Marty said the plant was expected to generate $51 million in gross domestic product each year.

Fenning Bairnsdale’s use of solar panels at its mill is expected to cut its use of electricity from the grid by 20 per cent. The solar panels provide 90 kilowatts of power to the mill’s kilns, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week to dry timber for processing.

The awards were presented by Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh, who said Victoria’s timber industry employed more than 21,000 people and generated about $1.78 billion for the state’s economy in 2011-12.

Mr Walsh said Victorian timber products were exported to Europe and Asia, with paper sent to more than 75 countries.

The keynote speaker was Peter Maddison, architect and host of television program Grand Designs Australia. Mr Maddison discussed sustainable buildings and the importance of sourcing local materials, particularly wood.