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Those of us in mining are very familiar with the principles of environmental, social and governance (ESG) and the incentives behind the increased emphasis on improving performance. Driven by many influences including regulation, investors, social pressures, and culture and recruitment, ESG is a constant presence in day-to-day operations and a permanent fixture on both the agendas of board meetings and daily operating reports.

But how much of this drive and focus is talk, and how much is actually substance?

To explore this question, I recently joined a thought leadership roundtable event hosted by Seequent, a leader in the development of geoscience analysis, modelling, and collaborative technologies. Joined by industry thinkers from organisations such as Imerys, Accenture and Lhoist, the event presented the perfect opportunity to discuss where industrial minerals mining is on its journey to good ESG performance, what the key drivers and challenges are, and where opportunity lies for mining companies to capitalise on their ESG initiatives to protect their future operations.

What became clear from the discussion is that, in today’s industry where meeting ESG targets is critical to achieving our global low-carbon future, many are asking, ‘where do we start?’.

Achieving ESG objectives can require potentially sizeable investment, as well as seemingly profound overhauls of operational practices, equipment and technologies. It’s no surprise then that whilst many mining companies are keen to achieve and demonstrate progress towards meeting and even exceeding ESG standards, the first challenge can sometimes lie in creating the initial roadmap to improved performance and greater transparency.

The amount of minerals and metals we need to extract in order to deliver the technologies that will move us towards our low carbon and resource efficient societies is enormous. But nobody wants this to be done in a way that creates a negative impact on people, on local communities or on the environment.

Many mining companies are extremely well intentioned and keen to not only show they are committed to improving their ESG performance, they want to be able to prove it. They are clear in the understanding there is a growing expectation from customers and local authorities that they will conduct operations in a responsible way, and this means that, as an industry we need to continue to improve and adapt to ensure we are always driving towards this.

As the global community continues to remain focused on ESG performance, the mining industry has had to overcome an often-chequered past. Companies who do not invest their time, resources, and energies into their ESG agendas have paid the price. There is no shortage of examples of incidents where failure to drive ESG into operations has resulted in disastrous consequences, for example with the destruction of sacred Aboriginal sites in Australia during mining operations, and these incidents can and do damage local communities and environments that cannot always be repaired.

Having participated in Seequent’s roundtable event and reflected upon the discussion it is clear to me that, when it comes to ESG, the train has long since left the station, and those not on board will find themselves in a very challenging situation in the not-too-distant future. ESG simply cannot fall off the agenda for mining companies or they risk not only their ability to operate but also jeopardise the confidence their customers and investors have, and ultimately hinder the growth of their business in the future.

When it comes to ESG, the time for just talk is long gone. Now is the time for action, for walking that talk.

This blog was written by: 

Dr Colin Church
CEO  – The Institue of Materials, Minerals and Mining

Read Seequent’s insight paper Industrial Minerals: Moving the ESG needle in mining – from threat to opportunity, which explores the key topics and issues around ESG in mining.

Download Report