2019-08-25
Steel factory visit
A Journey group visited the largest steel factory producer in Košice, Slovakia. I spoke to several participants to find out how this affected their ‘Journey’.

The technology of steel production has a significant impact on the environment. Production processes must therefore be constantly monitored for environmental effects, protective technologies must be utilised to their fullest extent, and technological discipline and information technology must be employed to reduce the environmental burden caused by steelmaking processes.

The company launched an ambitious capital investment program to improve its environmental technology and performance, and to enhance production and quality processes. U.S. Steel Košice has invested hundreds of million dollars since 2000 to modernise existing production and environmental systems, and to install new facilities. This capital program significantly increased U.S. Steel Košice's capability to provide high quality, value-added products and services to customers, and to align its operations with environmental standards.

Sounds good! But what did the participants take away from this?

One of the participants, Valery Shistov, said the visit changed her view on the environmental issue. Valery: "Although the factory does indeed try to minimise their environmental impact, the factory can’t completely run without fossil fuels. The steel company is simply paying the fines for their environmental impact. Other than that, the owner explained that 9,000 men are working in the factory. By changing to renewable energy, their families will feel the impact because they are convinced a lot of men won’t have a job anymore. So, the question is: How can we balance human needs with environmental needs? And, as I’ve never looked at it from that perspective, it really opened my eyes. It shows how complex the climate issue actually is."

How does the factory feel about the pressing issue of climate change?

Valery: "They simply feel it in their pockets. The push has to come from an economic or policy [angle which might be] by paying fines for example. Other than that, companies will not be aware a shift has to be made. They don’t think about environmental issues or how to solve it. Although they are developing technologies to be more circular and environmental, this is pushed by economic incentives. That is the ugly truth."

So, how would this company be more motivated to work in an environmental-friendly way?

According to Valery, they have to hire younger people who are motivated to change the world and change the environment. Inflow of new minds and new ideas are crucial for them. In addition, people with a background in environmental studies would help show them what they are doing wrong and how they can improve. Another student, who was inspired by this visit, was Annika. She said: "It was very insightful to see how this big production heavy steel plant has integrated environmentally-friendly practices into their production. One of the examples was reusing by-products to power other machinery and recycling scrap steel without any lost in the materials properties. At the same time, their steel production is a huge systemic carbon lock-in based on fossil fuels. It is very challenging to start accelerating a transition towards using more renewable resources, especially when they want to implement new technologies in their production. It is very costly in the short-term perspective according to how profitable it is.

The investments needed, will only be profitable after a while. For example, the factory talks about placing windmills instead of using fossil energy. This is a huge investment and will be profitable after >20 years. Therefore, I see there is a need to implement long-term business models that can create value towards a sustainable business but are still able to remain competitive."

Stine, Reyes and Thea agree fully with the other participants. According to them, it was confrontational to see in a physical way, how materials we use every day (in our phones, in our busses, etc.) are being made. It made it very clear we can’t just get rid of the production of steel, so we need to be creative in our solutions and look at the system as a whole. Stine: "The world is not ready for busses made by grass."