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Sustainability and acceptability for mining operations

Tiina Saario-Kuikko | 6.5.2014

The extractive industry is  experiencing a renewal and adapting to a changed environment.

VTT of Finland has led a research team to establish a vision and roadmap for sustainable and acceptable mining in Finland and to propose paths and means for achieving this by 2030. 

The future of the extractive industry has been examined on both the global and national level with curiosity and anticipation. Extractive industry is undergoing a transition and must adapt to the changed environment in order to take a new upward turn.

– The principle must be that the extractive industry is based on sustainable and responsible business operations, says manager of the foresight work package and research team leader Johanna Kohl at  VTT.

– A corporate culture based on sustainability and acceptability put into action may provide a solid business advantage, but this thinking is only just emerging in Finnish mining industry.

According to Kohl, the forestry industry has internalised this advantage, particularly through the image value of environmental issues. 


 

Towards a symbiosis of mines and society 

The vision for the future is the coexistence of society and the extractive industry in which the two breathe in unison and take account of the environment. This is promoted through six vision pathways: a learning and creating mining industry, developing the mining industry’s corporate culture, mining industry accepted by the local community, developing the actions of the authorities, minding the entire mining life-cycle and beyond, and timely and tailored communication.

Seven guidelines are proposed for improving the social license of the extractive industry. 

The industry operators could learn from each other and from other sectors. They are also advised to prepare for incidents and surprises in advance. An early warning system could be developed in order to take account of the stakeholders by foreseeing societal changes and concerns. 

Authority actions could also be streamlined both regionally and cross-governance. The research team further recommends development of the management system and communications, and viewing the many phases of life in the mining industry. Finally, the research team proposes supporting a dialogue between society and the extractive industry in a manner that benefits all.

According to Kohl, many of these measures are concentrated on developing the corporate culture and communications. One way this could be realised is by adopting a corporate social responsibility programme and reporting and monitoring applicable indicators. We should also take advantage of opportunities to compare and combine the data available in the systems of the various authorities in order to streamline authority operations.

There are several new uses for mines after the end of mining operations. 

For example, old mine areas can be converted into tourism and cultural venues. An underground mine could also be turned into a backup hydro-electric power plant as proposed for the Pyhäsalmi mining area in Northern Ostrobothnia.


 

Risk management through cooperation  

The roadmap for sustainable and acceptable mining provides a number of suggested actions which all emphasise the importance of cooperation. Cooperation is increasingly necessary for cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary contexts, but also between the various societal stakeholders and industry. 

– Adopting cooperative working methods would benefit the sustainable and acceptable development of the whole mining industry, Kohl suggests.

Developing cooperation and its different forms clearly promotes the understanding of issues and enhancing of communications, thus contributing to the dialogue on sustainable and acceptable operations.

As a concrete idea for development, stress tests act as a means of ensuring risk management as part of mining companies’ operational systems.An annual stress test could always be linked to a certain theme, for example. The project team suggests acceptability and stakeholder cooperation as one of the stress test themes.

By testing the functionality of acceptability processes and stakeholder cooperation, the continuity and sustainability of the extractive industry can be ensured. In this way, resorting solely to a reactive management of crisis situations and communicating about them can be avoided.

Tailored communications as part of the development of management systems is also considered a fundamental part of the future of sustainable and acceptable extractive industry.


 

Onwards with SAM

Work continues in the form of vision pathways in the Sustainable Acceptable Mining (SAM) project (2013–2015), which forms part of the TEKES Green Mining programme, as well as through regional economy analyses, water balance calculations and acceptability segments. This spring will see a follow-up of the vision and roadmap segment, during which the roadmap will be updated. 

– SAM is a sustainable development project led by VTT, including all the elements of sustainability, such as the environment, social impacts and economic aspects. “A regional perspective plays a major role, says Helena Wessman-Jääskeläinen from VTT, who has been coordinating the project. 

SAM’s main focus is on a so-called social licence to operate, and the related tools. The environmental tools concentrate on water, including developing a water footprint concept, while the economic sustainability tool focuses on new business and service concepts that promote sustainable development.

Active cooperation between research and industry has been very important throughout the project. VTT’s research partners in the project were the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and the Department of Environmental Economics of the University of Helsinki. VTT’s corporate and other cooperation partners included Metsähallitus, Agnico-Eagle Finland, Anglo-American Sakatti Mining Oy, City of Kuusamo, Pyhäsalmi Mine Oy, Northland Mines Oy, Finnish Association of Extractive Resources Industry, and Sandvik Mining and Construction.


 

The six vision pathways of the mining industry

  1. A learning and creating mining industry
  2. Developing the mining industry’s corporate culture
  3. Mining industry accepted by the local community
  4. Developing the actions of the authorities
  5. Minding the entire mining life cycle and beyond
  6. Tailored and timely communication

 

 

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