Using environmental management accounting to investigate benefits of cleaner production at a paper manufacturing company in Kwadakuza, KwaZulu-Natal : a case study
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Environmental degeneration, market pressures and stricter regulation and waste legislation has placed organizations under tremendous pressure to change their current processes and adopt cleaner production (CP) techniques and technologies. However, in countries like South Africa, CP implementation still remains low. In light of this problem, the government has made efforts to promote CP among industries by forming a support structure called the RECP (resource efficient cleaner production), as a strategy to encourage organizations to embrace this change and move away from the tradition end-of-pipe technologies towards CP technologies. This study is based on a case study of a paper manufacturing company in Kwadakuza, KwaZulu-Natal. The aim of this study was to use Environmental Management Accounting (EMA) to identify benefits of CP. Paper manufacturing consumes large amounts of natural resources and generates excessive wastes. Hence, the operational activities of paper mills have a negative environmental impact. However, the scope of this study was limited to the steam generation process and focused mainly on the efficiency of the current coal-fired boilers used in the boiler plant. The research methodology used in the study was both quantitative and qualitative involving triangulation. Data was collected by means of a questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and documentary review. The company uses old, obsolete boilers to generate steam. It had been discovered during a cleaner production assessment (CPA) of the process that the process uses large amounts of coal and generates excessive boiler ash (waste). This boiler ash also contains approximately 20 percent unburned coal present resulting in major losses to the company. Furthermore, the company has also experienced regular breakdowns during the year resulting in loss in production and high maintenance costs. Hence, it was concluded that the steam generation process was inefficient and that the boilers were not operating as per technological specification. However, management was unaware of the huge losses incurred due to raw material losses, more especially the coal used in the process. Environmental costs were also inaccurately calculated and thus underestimated. Hence, the ‘true environmental’ costs were not considered during strategic decision making. Over the last two decades, EMA has emerged as an important approach by organizations wanting to improve their environmental and economic performances. However, despite the many pilot projects conducted that demonstrated the positive impact that EMA has on an organization, EMA implementation remains slow and lagging in South Africa. EMA is an environmental management tool that traces environmental costs directly to the processes and products that are responsible for those costs, thereby highlighting problem areas that need to be prioritized when considering the adoption of CP. The literature review on the role and impact of implementing EMA and the benefits of adopting CP was presented to determine and outline views and findings of past researchers. Previous researchers identified that traditional costing systems did not adequately account for the actual environmental costs incurred by companies as much of these costs were hidden under overhead accounts. Hence, production costs were high, resulting in incorrect profit margins being set and ultimately impacting on company profitability. The main cause of this was that non-product output costs were added to production cost instead of being separately recorded as ‘non-product’ output. These costs are actually environmental costs as they represent waste. Material Flow Cost Accounting (MFCA), a tool of EMA, was considered as an appropriate method to implement to accurately calculate non-product output costs. MFCA made managers aware of the true magnitude of their losses and inefficiencies of current technology by increasing the transparency of non-product output costs (environmental costs). MFCA was further used to benchmark non-product output costs against technological standards and best available technological standards to highlight the economic and environmental benefits of adopting CP techniques and technologies. Based on the findings, one recommendation is that the company should consider restructuring their conventional costing system and adopt an EMA system instead. The use of an MFCA model had been suggested. This model was used by the Economy, Trade and Tourism industry in Japan to identify non-product output and improve efficiency of production processes. In addition, findings revealed that the company should implement CP techniques in the short-term to ensure that boilers are functioning according to technological specification. This will result in economic and environmental benefits for the company. However, greater savings potential is available in the long-term, by changing current technology and adopting state-of-the-art technologies. This would, however, require greater investment needs of the company to taken into consideration during strategic decision making.