Expert Insight

Prejudice and pride

A younger generation is needed to build a fresh image for mining

June 11, 2020

Catriona Beadel

Expert Insight
February 21, 2020

The mining industry is one full of tremendous opportunity and profound purpose. It provides the materials that enable the building of cities, the exploration of space, the connection of people, the increased yields of agriculture and the solution to our renewable power problem. It has the opportunity to do this whilst alleviating poverty and accelerating the wealth creation of developing nations.

This industry is one that we should all feel intensely proud of, given this opportunity, and given this purpose.

And yet it is one marred with prejudice; a persuasive narrative that detracts from the good mining can do, and gives weight to that which has been done wrong in the past. Horrendous tales of tailings disasters,mine roof collapses, environmental catastrophes, and exploitation – these are good reasons mining is finding this prejudice hard to shake.

This is why it is vital that the industry gets paranoid and continues in its perpetual effort not just to rebalance the detractor-advocate sentiment, but reverse the equation completely. Only then will it be able to attract the best and the brightest young minds, who are seeking a career of purpose and of pride.

The future of capitalism

Sir Paul Collier, professor at Oxford University and author of The ‘Future of Capitalism’ indicates that we are now in the third era of capitalism; one that considers the importance of relationships, trust, and tacit knowledge over hard-nosed contracts and transactions that leave the human element in the background. He challenges that the only companies that will succeed are those that are solving people’s problems profitably. As opposed to profit being the primary motive, profit is the primary outcome.

The opportunity this gives to the mining industry is particularly relevant given the importance of relationships and trust. Only with those elements – putting people first – can a mine be successfully developed in a sustainable and purposeful way, and only then can it provide materials that are essential to progressing humanity.

As more and more companies focus on this purpose, building trust in their actions and developing relationships with their host communities, aligning the entire industry with this new paradigm has the potential to change perceptions to the positive.

Education is a key segue to building trust, as well as demonstrating vulnerability. Companies seeking to develop a new mine have the opportunity to bring the host communities along their journey of discovery.Alongside the physical presence of ore, it is also important that companies present to the communities – locally, regionally, and nationally – the financial benefits to them.

Electric mining equipment, hydropower generation, solar panels, wind turbines, carbon sequestration, rehabilitation and offsetting are but a few of the resulting innovations

Communities are inspired by understanding what it means for job creation, upskilling of labour, and the relating supply chain opportunities. Furthermore, it is also necessary to be upfront about the environmental impact the development may have, but in a way that is inclusive and addresses concerns head on. It is also important to have a clear remediation plan that is fully consulted by communities; by putting people first, managing expectations and educating throughout, mining has the potential to thrive as well as leaving a lasting, positive legacy.

Whilst this is not a wholly new or novel approach, it must be pervasive and it should be society’s expectation of mining to enable a pivot of perception.

New power

Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms outline in their book, ‘New Power’, the looming shift of power from old to new. The old power world is defined by managerialism, institutionalism, and representative governance; the new power world is defined by informal, opt-in decision making,self-organisation and networked governance. The old, by discretion and confidentiality; the new, by radical transparency.

In practical terms, this new power world put power into the hands of the many, and reduces power in the hands of the few. For instance, the incredibly impactful climate change activist movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg is an example of new power; not only have her actions thus far resulted in both corporate and governmental response, they have spurred a seismic shift in the world’s discussion on climate change.

Mining should not be afraid of embracing this radical transparency. In the era of social media, transparency is demanded; if not given officially, it is received unofficially and often in a more harmful way.Miners should seize this transparency and use it as a tool for education; we have the power to leverage this medium to our advantage.

Even more so, as empowerment of all people is progressively enabled, employees and front-line staff members can demand of corporates responsible mining practices; in the same way that shareholders can demand it.This means that corporates not performing well will simply never get off the ground.

Environmental, social and governance

We must be careful that the environmental, social and governance initiatives do not get distilled into one issue of climate change. Along with this issue, are a myriad of others including poverty and corruption. I would argue these are of equal significance, and that mining has a substantial role to play in mitigating.

There is a concept floating around that there is an‘either/or’ of a climate change solution versus poverty alleviation,however this concept may be challenged if we circle back to the new paradigm of capitalism 3.0. If you are alleviating poverty, but accelerating climate change, you are causing a problem, rather than solving one. However, if you can alleviate poverty in a way that does not adversely contribute to climate change, you are solving a problem.

The challenge is thus: developing mines in a carbon neutral way, whilst maintaining or improving profit margins. This is a well-recognised challenge, which many participants of the industry have sought, and are seeking, to solve at an ever-more accelerated pace. Electric mining equipment, hydropower generation, solar panels, wind turbines, carbon sequestration, rehabilitation and offsetting are but a few of the resulting innovations.

The industry is uniquely positioned in that it needs to enable its own change; whether it is to mine the raw materials for battery storage, or the copper for electrification, or the steel for infrastructure.

The world needs mining. It always has and it always will.

However, it needs responsible, sustainable mining that solves problems for people rather than creating them. This industry needs participants who have entirely bought into this new paradigm; and I’d challenge anyone who would not want to be a part of a new period of pride over prejudice.

Expert Insight
June 11, 2020

Like the article? Spread the word

Our Partners

In association with