For ten years, educator and environmentalist Ubirajara Coroa, a Camaçari city councilman for the Labor Party (PT) in Bahia, has followed a routine that is sacred to him: every two months he attends the meetings of the Community Consultation Board of the municipalities of Camaçari and Dias D’Ávila, of which he is a member together with 21 other volunteers. Their agenda always has the same central theme, which directly concerns the 150,000 residents of Camaçari and the 40,000 inhabitants of Dias D’Ávila: the relationship between those two communities and the neighboring Camaçari Petrochemical Complex, one of Brazil’s largest industrial parks.
These community consultation boards are helping carry out a critically important mission in the states of Bahia, Alagoas and Rio Grande do Sul: establishing closer ties between the communities and petrochemical companies. Braskem plays a leading role in the boards established at the petrochemical complexes in Camaçari, Bahia, and Triunfo, Rio Grande do Sul, as well as the Alagoas Clorochemical Complex. these boards are helping establish a solid alliance, and each has a different story to tell.
Cofic, the Camaçari Industrial Development Committee (a private business association that brings together 58 member companies at the Camaçari Petrochemical Complex) created the Bahia Community Consultation Board to fulfill one of the basic principles of the Responsible Care Program (see box): establishing a regular channel of communication with the community. The Board’s main objective is to inform the manufacturing companies at Camaçari about the local communities’ perceptions of the work being done at the petrochemical complex in the areas of safety, health and the environment. At the same time, the board members have access to data that makes it easier to understand and disseminate information to the community about matters pertaining to these areas.
“As an environmentalist, I had always contested the chemical industry. But my experience on the Board has given me a new outlook and enabled me to see first-hand how the responsible-care philosophy works in practice. For us, our experience on the Board has broken the paradigm that industrial activities invariably pollute the environment,” observes Ubirajara Coroa. “We now know that companies are always looking for new production methods and technologies that minimize their impact on the environment and people,” adds board member Luiz Valter de Lima, Communications Director for the Camaçari Teachers’ Union.
A representative cross-section of the communities, the Board is made up of leaders of neighborhood associations, environmental groups, environmental inspection agencies, service clubs and business, church, health and education groups among others. The Board meets with representatives of invited companies every two months to discuss issues related to the Camaçari Complex that are raised by the local community.
Whenever an accident at the Complex puts the environment or human life at risk (with or without material damage), the company involved is invited to report on it at the Community Board’s ordinary (bimonthly) or extraordinary meetings. “In those cases, the companies are invited to explain what happened. Our philosophy is that no company can be forced to report to us, but if it does, it must tell the truth,” explains board member Jerônimo Couto, Chairman of the City Council of Dias D‘Ávila, who used to work at the Camaçari Complex.
The first Community Consultation Board created in Brazil for a large-scale complex will be marking its 10th anniversary in December. “The secret to keeping the Board going is credibility, which is achieved through transparency and responsibility when sharing information,” explains Érico Oliveira, Cofic’s Executive Director for People’s Development and Communication.
”Because of the results it has achieved, particularly the strong relationship between the complex and the communities, this Board is a winner. Business leaders listen to us and we are treated responsibly and attentively,” says board member Carlos Borges, Director of the New Dias D’Ávila Residents’ Association and the Chair of municipality’s Volunteer Firefighters’ Society.
The experience being built up in Camaçari has laid the foundations for establishing similar community boards in other Brazilian states. “Our Board has served as a model for the country. It’s a national benchmark for creating others like it,” Ubirajara Coroa says proudly. He gave presentations on the Bahia board’s experience at the Triunfo Petrochemical Complex and the Alagoas Clorochemical Complex when the two industrial districts were forming their own boards.
The Alagoas Community Consultation Board is made up of representatives of several segments of society. Its 40 members come from neighborhood associations, environmental groups, the business sector, and public and private institutions.
Eight years ago, the complex created two boards, one in the area where the PVC unit is located, in the municipality of Marechal Deodoro, and the other in the area influenced by the Chlor-Alkali Unit, in the Pontal da Barra district of Maceió. The initial idea was to inform the plants’ local communities about the production process, equipment and measures being taken to protect the environment, health and the safety of people and material assets, so that residents could familiarize themselves with the facilities’ activities, possible risks and programs.
Over time, the board members realized that it was not only necessary but possible to discuss and try to find solutions for other kinds of problems facing their communities. According to Júlio Lucidi, Braskem’s Quality, Health, Safety and Environment Manager at Alagoas, the issues raised at these meetings were still pertinent to their original aims. “We felt the need to discuss topics that are in a way related to the original reason for creating the board. As a result, we merged the two boards into one,” he says.
The Community Consultation Board members are all volunteers. They hold regular meetings every two months, as well as extraordinary meetings at Braskem’s Chlor-Alkali Unit in Pontal da Barra, Maceió, where the board has its headquarters and logistical support. The meetings follow an agenda comprised of issues suggested by the board members themselves. The board’s conclusions and recommendations are recorded in the minutes for each meeting. Depending on the issues raised, when previously appointed and authorized by the other board members, any participant can send an invitation to a public or private institution requesting information and clarifications about specific matters.
“People generally tend to fear the unknown. Therefore, there was a great deal of reluctance to contact the company and get answers,” says Ronaldo Cerqueira, Environmental Director of the Maceió Nautical Motor Sport Club, and a board member since the group’s first meeting eight years ago.
Most of the board members are in direct touch with the community. They recognize that the group can provide shortcuts and untangle red tape when making improvements, answering questions and dealing with situations that present a risk for the nearly 186,000 people who make their living directly or indirectly from the environment in the area of the Mundaú/Manguaba Lagoon Estuary Complex. Mundaú and Manguaba are the two main lagoons in the state, which has a total of 19. “It is possible to live in harmony with nature. The company generates jobs and income and we feel that we are doing are work with ever-greater transparency. We are keeping our eyes open and don’t feel obliged to agree to everything,” says Petrúcio Soares, a four-year board member who represents the residents’ association of Marechal Deodoro, the municipality where Braskem has its PVC factory.
At a recent board meeting, representatives of the Alagoas Fishers’ Federation complained that mud crabs were disappearing from the Mundaú Lagoon region. The issue was included in the meeting’s agenda and the board asked the relevant agencies to carry out a study of the problem.
The Triunfo Petrochemical Complex Community Consultation Board was created in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul in May 2003. Its 30 members are residents of the municipalities of Triunfo, Montenegro and Nova Santa Rita. Each town elects 10 representatives, and they select a coordinator for each group. The three coordinators elect the coordinator of the Community Consultation Board. In the case of the Triunfo Complex, the coordinator is a woman: educator and artist Jacilene Lemos Lino, from Montenegro.
“This isn’t my first experience with volunteer work,” says Jacilene. “Taking part in the Community Consultation Board is an opportunity to broaden my range of action, adding a new front, working with health, safety and the environment, in addition to education. This is new, and that challenges and fascinates me.” Jacilene says that before joining the board she had not paid any attention to the Triunfo Petrochemical Complex. “I had no thoughts about it,” she recalls. “Today, I know the companies at the complex are concerned about the community.”
Jacilene remembers that she was surprised and optimistic about being elected to head the board. “The companies invited the community to come in and talk. The people who were interested got together and started to exchange ideas, and our motivation grew. I took on this challenge because I realized that this partnership is a real opportunity to improve the community’s quality of life.” She stresses that the board’s relationship with the Triunfo Complex companies is highly productive and has produced important results. “Our communications are frequent, direct and efficient.”
The board members’ usual tasks range from finding answers to simple questions from community members to hearing complaints. The answers are always given and the complaints invariably investigated. On one occasion, teachers from the José Machado dos Santos School in Triunfo informed the board that trees in the Porto Batista community, where the school is located, had suddenly changed color. An Emater technician visited the school and discovered that aphids that deposited a glucose-rich substance on the leaves were responsible for the phenomenon. When ants don’t eat the glucose it stays on the leaves, making them yellow and wilt. The technician found that the problem had nothing to do with the industrial district’s operations and recommended spraying the trees with pesticide.
Another time, Montenegro residents said that fruit had stopped growing in a village in that municipality because of the petrochemical complex. An Emater technician went there and found that the trees were infected with a fungus that stunted their growth. He recommended using a fungicide to deal with that problem.
The board members’ interlocutor at the complex is the Dialogue with the Community Subcommittee, on which every company at the complex is represented. Gilberto Bock Magnus, from the Administrative Services area, is Braskem’s representative on the subcommittee as well as its vice coordinator. “The Board’s mission is to help bring the community and the companies at the complex closer together,” says Gilberto. “There is still a lot to be done – we have a long road ahead. Forming the Board was a major step forward. A dream come true.”
Both the manufacturing businesses and board members are seeking to make the history and functions of the Community Consultation Board better known in all three municipalities. “We are always asking ourselves what we can do to reach out to the community more effectively; how to provide it with more information and make sure it is increasingly accurate,” says Gilberto. The measures being taken include tours of the plants, meetings and lectures (held at the petrochemical complex and the municipalities).
“We have to open up the company’s sphere of operations to include the community,” argues Guilherme Guaragna, the officer responsible for Manufacturing at Braskem’s Polyolefins Unit. “That’s the only way the community can gain first-hand knowledge of the company’s culture and values. Braskem wants to interact with the community and get to know it better.” In Guaragna’s assessment, companies have broadened their range of operations in the last two decades, “going outside their perimeter” and returning to their role as social agents. The community consultation boards are part of that process.
“A relationship of trust is developing,” says Guaragna. “We have passed through the stage of creating the Board. Relationships have been formed and established. Now we want to improve communication. We are working to make the community and the complex feel that they are part of the same family. We want to create that bond.”
Guaragna also stresses another important aspect of the Community Consultation Board’s work at Triunfo: voluntary community service. Braskem members working at the Triunfo Complex are fond of this concept and they apply it intensively. Their participation in the work of the Breast Institute (IMAMA) of Rio Grande do Sul and the Vila Pinto Environmental Center in Porto Alegre are two good examples. “I believe that the Community Consultation Board can be an excellent outlet for volunteer activity involving social programs aimed at informing and educating the community.”