Traditional steel production is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions the world over. ArcelorMittal is on a mission to transform this trend. With its eye firmly set on the Paris Agreement, the firm aims to achieve carbon-neutral steel production before 2050, and its Canadian long steel subsidiary ArcelorMittal Long Products Canada is already well positioned in that matter.
Producing sustainable steel is ArcelorMittal Long Products Canada’s prize goal. Yet, even as one of North America’s most respected steel producers, achieving carbon-neutral steel production within the next three decades remains a gargantuan feat – one that the company is working relentlessly on achieving. With upholding the Paris Agreement as its guideline, the company is acutely aware of dotting its i’s and crossing its t’s throughout every stage of its sustainable steel production processes.
Considering the company’s noble mandate to lighten its impact on the planet, it seemed nearly poetic, landing an interview with Francois Perras, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Philippe Boulanger, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, on International Earth Day, April 22 of this year. Since the original Canadian operation opened its doors on St Patrick Street, Montreal in 1914, it has never looked back. Through several acquisitions over the following decades, the company was sold to steel giant, Mittal Canada, in 2006, merged with Arcelor in July, and became ArcelorMittal that same year.
Headquartered in Contrecoeur, Quebec, the firm partners mainly with automotive, construction, welding, and manufacturing industries, among others. Part of the global giant ArcelorMittal, the Quebec outfit has sister mining and steel operations in Canada, including some located in Port-Cartier and Ontario’s Concord, Hamilton, and Woodstock.
“For us, steel is definitely part of the solution to fight climate change. It is an infinitely recyclable material and plays a role in modern infrastructure,” says Perras. “Long Products Canada is, we believe, very well positioned to support this fight. With our current operation model, our initiative to further reduce our carbon footprint, and with all our great people, we’re always up to the challenge. We are ready to improve as we go.”
These inspiring words are not mere wishful thinking, either. The company’s leadership is fully aware of the inherent challenges, and frank about natural resources being finite. “We cannot take something out of the Earth and believe that it will always be replaced. [Our sustainability decisions] are [long-term]. We are thoughtful of the impact we have. Steel takes a lot of energy, a lot of resources. We want to make sure it is done sustainably so that there is a future for our kids, a future for our industry,” Perras says, underlining the importance of avoiding waste at all costs.
The company has proven itself in several other industries also. “If a light or heavy truck is circling North American roads, there is certainly some ArcelorMittal Long Products Canada steel in it,” Perras says. This is the impressive statement that first caught this author’s eye when I was introduced to this game-changing firm. On further inspection, one discovers that ArcelorMittal is the biggest fabricator of leaf springs used in wheel suspensions and a trusted partner supplying steel to parts manufacturers that serve some of the largest automotive companies in the U.S. and Canada. “It is impossible to choose the best ones. We love all our customers,” both leaders agree.
As Canada’s largest producer of rebar products and also one of the most environmentally responsible, there are several ways in which Long Products Canada mitigates its already low carbon emissions. The company is astute and pragmatic in its approach to self-sufficiency, mining iron ore locally in the province of Quebec, which is then transported over comparatively short distances to its processing facilities. Every year the company invests between $20 million and $30 million on upgrades and equipment maintenance to ensure optimally reduced emissions.
Using hydroelectricity as a main source of energy, Long Products Canada recently installed energy-efficient reheat furnaces that came at a hefty price tag of around $70 million, making its product one of the lowest carbon-emitting steels on the market. The wire rod mill will be upgraded at the end of 2021, increasing its capacity over 100,000 tons, according to Perras. Since 2018, the company has invested over $160 million to secure the future of sustainability for its long products Canadian plants and facilities.
Smart technology investments are another driver toward becoming greener. “When the replacements were done for the reheat furnaces in the past year, we chose the most efficient equipment available. We reduced our emissions by tens of thousands of tons of CO2 by doing this,” says Perras.
Long Products Canada is a powerful, diverse company optimized for efficiency within its closed-loop supply chain. Iron ore is extracted by its mining outfit along the northern coastline of Quebec and turned into a large range of steel products. To ensure the responsible re-use of scrap, the team founded a new joint venture, Integrated Metal Recycling (IRM), in 2020 to handle recycling – a process that supports both sustainable and regenerative design. Amidst debate on what material is the most recycled on the planet, steel can arguably be considered the leader by weight. And in this field, the company claims the position of largest local steel recycler in the province of Quebec by transforming up to a whopping 1 million tons of scrap into new, top-quality steel annually.
While Long Products Canada fabricates steel products for the automotive, heavy equipment, and construction industries, one sister operation, ArcelorMittal Dofasco, is part of its highly integrated value chain where steel is rolled and taken through several more stages of fabrication. Beyond this well-organized group of facilities, the company’s global research and development (R&D) team is another force to be reckoned with.
“We do our research and development with our customers,” says Boulanger. “People are saying that construction is not evolving. But [it] is evolving.” To this end, the R&D team is constantly working to improve and evolve its offering to support its clients’ environmental goals. “Our most recent developments include high tensile martensitic grades promoting vehicle light weighting without compromising the properties of the part in question as well as bainitic grades for hot forging and cold heading applications that allow customers to reach their desired properties without any heat treatment, therefore reducing the carbon footprint of these products.”
Another of its new concepts, Steligence®, treats the construction phase of every building as the transient creation process of a permanent yet evolving module that will serve those who occupy and give it life for decades – even centuries. “On the global front, two years ago we launched our Steligence® brand,” explains Boulanger. “Steligence® is the way that ArcelorMittal is now using a philosophy based on science that proposes building holistically and using ArcelorMittal steel solutions integrated into buildings that will improve their environmental, economic and social impact while enhancing the functionality and aesthetics of the building,” he explains. This philosophy is supported by modern, leading edge steel solutions that consider the full life cycle of building and fully enable sustainable construction.
Leading a winning team
Of course, COVID-19 arrived as a disruptor to the ArcelorMittal family of companies. The Long Products Canada team adapted accordingly but did have to halt operations temporarily following lockdown orders in several parts of the world. But, after business returned to normal at the end of the year, the firm is once again operating at levels similar to prior to the pandemic.
“The resilience [our employees showed] as they had to navigate through this new normal, adapting to new health restrictions that we’re not out of yet, working at home, protecting their families, and making sure that the business was still answering our customers’ needs, showed us the importance of steel and that it’s part of the fabric of life. It created a lot of pride and ownership in our people,” says Perras.
Long Products Canada is about all of its 1,800 employees, first. That quickly became apparent when I asked Perras for the company’s definition of safe and sustainable steel. “For us, our main objective is that when everybody comes to work, they have a great experience but also [that] when they leave work they are in the same or even better shape than when they came in. That is number one. We want everybody to be able to enjoy their lives at work and home and be safe everywhere,” he says.
This means that nobody’s safety or wellbeing is compromised for the sake of production. “This is the number one [driver] of every decision we make. It has to be present all the time,” Perras adds. In turn, company staff benefit from incredible growth opportunities. “Our sandbox is very large,” he says. Alongside international assignments, the company offers professional development through training opportunities like its proprietary ArcelorMittal online university.
Naturally, the success of the customers they partner with forms part of the team’s strong sense of responsibility. “[We are on] a journey with our customers as well,” says Boulanger. “That part is really important. When we talk about making responsible choices, we also look at [the quality and innovation] of the product we offer to our customers.”
Supporting the arts
The firm appreciates and supports its local communities as well as the arts – in this case, art that supports workers’ rights. ArcelorMittal Long Products Canada donated 20, 24-ton steel slabs, 10 meters high, for a sculpture by Armand Vaillancourt, “La Force Ouvrière” or “The Labour Force” in the Parc Michel-Chartrand in Longueuil, Quebec, where it also has a plant. The piece is a monument that celebrates the late labour activist and union leader, Michel Chartrand, for his contribution to labour equality and improving workers’ rights in Quebec. Thanks to the weight and dimension of the mammoth steel plinths, “La Force Ouvrière” achieves a tremendous sense of presence – one that succeeds in visually communicating the power of worker unity and cooperation for their shared benefit.
STEM education is another cause the company works to build awareness around to ensure that the quality of education and the people entering its workforce remains high. In addition, it supports the United Way, the well-known international aid organization to which the firm has donated around $3 million through company-wide efforts over many years.
Being highly responsive to customer needs is a source of great pride at Long Products Canada. To future-proof this capacity, the firm insists on remaining flexible and moving with the zeitgeist. In the spirit of perpetual evolution, the firm is exploring new ways of shrinking its greenhouse gas emissions further by employing hydrogen, biochar, and other technologies. In 2020, it started a company-wide transformation initiative to speed up change. In an ongoing effort, it is rethinking and streamlining its processes, weeding out the deadwood of unnecessary tasks, and creating optimal flow between functions, making it more adaptable and consistent.
As automation and digitalization grow, ArcelorMittal Long Products Canada continues to find new ways to improve its production methods and shrink its carbon footprint. With the help of automation, it also continues to move people out of dangerous and menial tasks into safer and more fulfilling jobs. Looking toward 2050, the company’s goals are clear. By 2025 it is set to be a world leader in steel production while also being a transparent and supportive presence in its host communities – and we have no doubt that this dynamic company will reach its carbon-neutral steel production goals way ahead of schedule.