Mining’s Efforts for Positive ImpactsBy Alfonso Núñez | Thu, 01/27/2022 - 18:47
You can watch the video of this panel here.
Future challenges for the mining industry in Mexico abound, and topics such as the management of water supplies in the face of scarcity, the implementation of greener alternatives on operations, best practices for approaching communities and ways to ensure benefits, as well as self-sufficiency for local communities after mining projects are completed were some of the topics discussed during the closing panel of Mexico Mining Forum 2022 “ESG: Creating Positive Impact for Communities and the Environment”, where Independent ESG Senior Consultant Ana Mallen hosted the panel.
Yuren Castillo, Earth and Environment Manager, Golder WSP, believes there are many challenges and uncertainty regarding climate change, especially because many local relations are still under development and much of the industry does not know what could happen next. One challenge is that many mining companies in Mexico are close to the end of their mine life. For this reason, Castillo recommends viewing other frameworks for inspiration and urges companies to ensure their projects end in a responsible manner. Regarding water supply, Castillo recommended water stewardship as an effective solution because of the inclusion of stakeholders and environmental wellbeing in a transition from simple water management to stewardship.
The consumption of elevated amounts of energy, said Castillo, represents many of the highest operational costs for mining operations. There will also be an increased demand for fuel because processes are more arduous with lower quality ore which will require greater processing. Therefore, mining companies need to install green energy sources to minimize operational costs. Companies also need to engage in an open dialogue with the local communities and not create false expectations. It is important to communicate risks promptly once they have been identified.
Bradford Cooke, Founder and Executive Chairman of Endeavour Silver, pointed to the importance of not letting external forces and challenges drive mining agendas and instead, establish a principle of responsibility of what he calls “corporate social integrity”. For Endeavor Silver, this consists in private-public partnerships in which the company financially backs up community projects. Successful partnerships with local communities, Cooke believes, are the result of establishing relationships prior doing business.
Cooke also commented on what he believes is the industry’s most important water impact - tailings facilities. “Wet” facilities, where the ground up rock after minerals have been extracted are stored as clay in water behind a dam can be replaced by dry stack tailing which allows the recycling of water. It may come at a greater cost, nevertheless, it brings a huge benefit where water can be up to 90 percent recycled, as is the case of Endeavour Silver. The company recognizes the end-dates of mining projects, which is why they invest in legacy projects whose impact can be broad. One such example is the provision of scholarships for education well beyond mining interests.
Melissa Sanderson, founder Mel Sanderson Consulting, highlighted climate change issues in the industry such as exacerbating water issues and dust pollution for communities surrounding the mine sites, as well as other social aspects. Sanderson emphasized that that the expansion of social media has empowered all communities so the traditional image of stakeholders surrounding communities which have been directly impacted by projects may not be so fitting anymore. As such, companies need to step-up their game in order to adapt to a new climate which needs updated sustainable and social impact plans.
Increasing technologies are reducing water dependency and new mining techniques are also decreasing water dependency by replacing them with earth friendly bio based chemical agents. Many mines today are enforcing measures to capture rainwater that flow into reservoirs and flow into use, Sanderson explained. Through her extensive work aimed at reaching agreements with local communities, Sanderson advices companies enter negotiations looking for a compromise where both communities and companies gain. In order to achieve this, setting aside cultural prejudices and truly understanding the human side of these communities is required, Sanderson pointed out.
Cristina Rodríguez, Subdirector, Minera Cuzcatlán, shared the company’s emphasis on climate change through and explained how they are setting short-, medium- and long-term goals for innovation of technology in operations to reduce footprints in multiple areas such as water, tailings and energy. They are working with close cycles of water management to reduce impact and new project with solar panels. By measuring the impact of their 72 solar panels, they know they have reduced over 100 tons of CO2 in labor.
Minera Cuzcatlán has also made sure to leave a positive impact in the local community. This was done by seeking out an understanding of what they needed and as such, they have been able to provide employment opportunities which have represented a reduction of migration out of the communities to seek financial opportunities and have greatly impacted the opportunities local women are presented with.
Finally, Ulises Neri, Mexican Vice Chair, Expert Group on Resource Management and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), urged companies to consider how they can achieve a balance between shareholders and stakeholders with people and local governments regarding mining project compromises. Industry participants in the panel highlighted that there are many tools and standards to analyze goals in order to prioritize which activities are possible to develop in future stages, Neri said.
Neri also encouraged social projects to be thought of not only locally but for the entire state and area, some of which can be done by highlighting the importance of mining activities in daily life. As Neri mentioned, the mining industry is one which not only impacts but benefits every individual through end-products. Neri also agreed with missions for the participation of local communities in creating value chains and local activities so they have a say in how they are benefitted or funded by the mining projects.