Engaging communities through open information and cooperation models

Transparency is an essential part of Westenergy’s operations. We have thousands of visitors at the plant every year and we try to make contacts in our operational area in various ways. The work and study opportunities we offer will also help to make our operations known.

Important work for Westenergy’s transparency is made by Communications Officer Sanna Hautamaa and Executive Assistant Maria Teräs, who meet hundreds of people on site tours and at trade fairs annually.

– We want to improve the reputation of the entire industry, since many believe that incineration is dirty and smelly. Actually, it is very clean. We produce energy and help the environment at the same time. Our plant is an alternative to landfilling and we reduce the use of coal and oil in energy production, says Maria.

Thousands of visitors

In 2017, Westenergy had 3,134 visitors on site tours and 847 visitors at trade fairs, which means that Westenergy was able to meet a total of about 4,000 people last year; around 300 of them attended the company’s open house event on October 28. In addition, Westenergy is in contact with people through social media, via its own Instagram and Facebook accounts. However, the waste incineration plant’s operations are easiest to grasp on site:

-It’s a different experience when we can really show what this place is about. Visitors have a chance to peak into the grate and they can see a waste bunker grab from the window of the control room, which especially the smallest visitors love. Here you can ask questions and take as many pictures as you want. We encourage both pictures and information to be shared with others as well, says Sanna.

Westenergy’s visitors include students, workplace health promotion groups and foreign guests, exchange students, daycare groups and cooperation partners. However, the largest single group of visitors is school classes. They are visiting Westenergy as part of schools’ environmental and energy education.

-The pupils of today are very smart and interested in environmental issues. We will tell them what happens here when waste is incinerated, how the facility works and what benefits our operations have for the environment. After the introduction, it is easier to understand the effects that daily sorting and recycling have on the operations of the waste incineration plant. We do not have special sorting equipment. Instead, we expect people to follow the sorting instructions of their own waste disposal company at their homes, workplaces and schools. The better that people sort out everything to be recycled from waste, the better the fuel will be for us, says Sanna.

-We have an exhibition with a variety of objects found in the ash, i.e. the bottom slag. It makes visitors think; ‘Good grief, do people really throw such things into the bin’. Especially large metal objects can cause such reactions. Small items, such as aluminium scraps from yogurt tubs, also belong to the metal collection container – not to be burnt by us. Aluminium melts when it ends on the grate and blocks the air holes, which reduces the efficiency of the incineration process.

The more efficiently people sort their waste and recycle different materials, the better fuel we get.

Involving young people and other communities

In addition to site tours, Westenergy promotes the well-being and operation of its industry in various organisations such as the Energiateollisuus ry (Energyindustry / ET), Jätelaitosyhdistys (Organisation of Waste-to-Energy plants / JLY), ISWA (The International Solid Waste Association) and CEWEP (European Waste-to-Energy Plants). One part of Westenergy’s community activity is to provide work and study opportunities for young people. Every spring, summer workers studying at a polytechnic, university or vocational school are recruited for Westenergy’s production, maintenance and administrative tasks. In 2017, Westenergy also hired for the first time two 16-18-year-old summer workers to take care of Westenergy’s outdoor areas. The goal was to acquaint more young people with working life. Since the experiment was quite successful, young people will also be hired in Summer 2018. Some students have also written dissertations for Westenergy after their summer job. One of them is Sanna, who will graduate from the Vaasa University of Applied Sciences with a degree in energy and environmental engineering:

– Prior to my communication assignments, I was a summer worker for three years at Westenergy and through that I got the opportunity to write my thesis here. In my work, I studied the reliability of waste quality inspections based on working methods and data from inspections. It has also been interesting to note how accurate Westenergy’s waste monitoring is in comparison to other incineration plants, says Sanna.

In 2017, Åbo Akademi’s diploma engineers Niklas Serén and Joakim Gistö wrote their master’s theses for Westenergy. For the future and for 2018, Maria and Sanna are increasingly hoping to make more contacts with the Westenergy business communities:

– It would be important for us to be able to tell about our operations across our entire range of activities, which is geographically quite wide. We could also cooperate with organisations that are not directly involved in the industry. For example, the Martha Organisation arranged clothing swap days with us a couple of years ago, says Maria.