Does the mining industry have a public relations problem?
PDAC 2018 was an invigorating experience that left me with a great deal of optimism about the future of the mining industry. Conference attendance reached near-peak levels and the buzz of enthusiasm was palpable at the trade show and investor exchange. Other highlights from the week included Goldcorp’s #DisruptMining, where industry innovators demonstrated their latest ground-breaking technologies. And at SDC, we hosted our second annual SDC Mining and Sustainability Breakfast with a presentation by Professor David Wheeler on Climate and transition to a low carbon economy: the great disruption or the great opportunity for extractive industries.
During the presentation and again during the follow-up discussion, I kept coming back to the same thought: “Why are we, as miners, so bad at telling our sustainability story?” It’s a shame, because our story is a compelling one to tell. Within PDAC’s plenary sessions, I heard one example after another of miners seeking to address some of the most challenging su stainability questions like: protecting biodiversity, improving safety or promoting cultural heritage.
If we are truly taking mining to the next level via sustainable development (and I do believe we are), then why does the public maintain such negative feelings about mining?
According to Professor Wheeler, a company can never fully integrate sustainability into its culture if it is fixated on compliance. Compliance is mandatory but not transformative. So how can we, as miners, take our sustainability culture to the next level?
I looked to other industries which appear to have a favorable reputation, one of the most obvious is the booming tech industry. Apple struck me as having loyal customers that would wait day (or night) for the latest Apple product. So how did Apple address sustainability challenges?
In January 2018, Amnesty International released a report that claimed Apple, Samsung and other major electronics manufacturers were using raw materials that had been produced by child laborers in the DPR Congo. In response, Apple quickly issued a strongly worded statement that denounced child labor and other human right’s violations as being contrary to Apple’s own corporate policies. Apple followed up with a confounding and alarming admission: they could not immediately verify if raw materials used in their finished products had be produced by child laborers.
Despite the admission, Apple’s sales did not falter, and the company largely avoided increased scrutiny. In fact, Apple changed its methods and within a year and a half was being lauded for its supply chain transparency.
Reflecting on Professor Wheeler’s description of compliance culture vs. sustainable organization culture, I realized that mining has been perpetually stuck in compliance culture. If a similar scandal were to hit our industry, a massive amount of resources would be poured into simultaneously mitigating the fallout and rectifying the process. In order to transform from a compliance culture to a sustainable organization culture, miners need enough goodwill (from customers and investors) to weather the initial storm and then implement an innovative solution.
So how does mining create goodwill? By telling our amazing story. By explaining to those outside the industry that we have some of the best solutions to some of the greatest sustainability challenges. And by stating the simple fact: mining is essential to human progress. And while some miners are starting to tell this story (see below), an initiative led by an independent industry association, such as ICMM, would help miners generate the goodwill they need to take their sustainability culture to the next level.