Sustainable standards for the mining and metallurgical industry of the 21st century

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 98, No. 1087, 2005

D.J. Kemp

The 20th century saw changes in the mining and metallurgical industry not only technically but also in social and environmental expectations. As projects become larger their visibility raises concerns among communities of interest, and mining companies must adopt a transparent and open approach to assure success. An equally important task is to anticipate the standards that will be required to meet expectations. Early mines left waste and spoil piles around the surface and the images of barren blackened hills is the environmental legacy of coal mining that still lives with us today. The growth of media reporting after World War II raised public awareness to a new level. Industrial pollution was no longer localized and disasters, such as mercury poisoning in Minimata Bay, Japan, were internationally exposed. Native populations with diets consisting of a high percentage of fish were thrust onto front page headlines because of the impacts of elevated mercury levels. From this grew public advocacy and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that could no longer be dismissed as fringe groups or an insignificant factor in environmental matters. Some companies took a more balanced approach and their support of communities and the environment were a model of the day. In the context of the time this was more often seen as a ‘paternalistic approach’ to social needs. These values of the organization are largely embraced within a sustainable development approach to business. The refinement of financial models over the latter half of the 20th century has created situations that inhibit spending today to prevent future problems. The rational result of these models is that investing, instead of spending the money, will lead to more than enough cash to correct future problems when they arise. The error or risk in this approach is that uncertainty has not been adequately considered. A case is made that deferral of environmental control dollars is not justified compared to the inherent risk to the overall business. Decisions made today will be with most mines for the next two decades. If conventional financial decisions restrict access to future resources, we must therefore place a value on the intangibles. Financial decision measures are thus not simply a matter of business acumen made by the rational mind of an accountant. Falconbridge established very early on that project standards for their Koniambo project would have to satisfy numerous criteria to be acceptable to all communities of interest. The intent has been to establish a mix consisting of the most stringent baseline standards on which to develop the project. These reflect the sensitivity to multiple national and regional standards as well as the expectations of potential financing agencies. A risk-based approach will be used to ensure optimal use of the investment. Mining organizations need to view their communities of interest as partners in the venture. Capacity building is a key part of community development needs. At Koniambo, Falconbridge is pursuing an open process that will keep all communities of interest informed at every step of the development. It is expected that in the future, stakeholders will become more closely involved in the activities of mining and metallurgical operations in their communities. They have increasing expectations of openness and want to be party to information and changes that could have an impact on their everyday lives. The mining and metallurgical industry of the 21st century must be cognizant of these expectations if they wish to be part of future resource development, otherwise they may not be invited or allowed to participate.
Keywords: Sustainable standards, Sustainable development, Environmental awareness, Corporate attitudes, Community attitudes.