Commodity driven growth in countries like China and India continues to boost the natural resources sector. As the mining industry keeps pace with unprecedented recent demand for commodities like platinum, zinc, copper and nickel – not to mention gold and diamonds – the world’s largest mining companies are working together to develop the industry’s own contribution to the cause of sustainable development.
The origins of this initiative date back to 1998 when the CEOs of mining majors came together to form the Global Mining Initiative (GMI). It was an unprecedented collaboration of the major players in the mining industry, and was a result of their collective desire to address a range of serious business risks by consolidating best practice and improve performance. Working through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development they commissioned the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project (MMSD), a two-year independent process that attracted support from more than 40 commercial and non-commercial sponsors.
The objectives of MMSD were fourfold: to assess how the global mining and minerals sector could make the transition to sustainable development; to look at the industry’s supply chain and how services could be delivered to support the cause; to propose key elements for improving the system and to build platforms for analysis, engagement and communication among all stakeholders in the sector.
The result of this work was a report, Breaking New Ground, published to coincide with the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002, and the formation of a permanent body, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), to take forward the MMSD agenda.
A sustainable mission
The organization’s goals can be summarized as follows: “to provide leadership in improving sustainable development performance, through identification of good practices; to represent the industry and interact with stakeholders and to promote science-based regulations and materials choice decisions.”
To this end, ICMM has developed a decision making structure emanating from the CEO-driven commitment of 16 member companies (five of whom are based in North America), including most of the largest players in the sector. In May 2003, these CEOs agreed to measure corporate performance against 10 ICMM principles, part of the sustainable development framework that has become the cornerstone of ICMM activity. This has translated into a whole series of practical initiatives covering such areas as corporate transparency and accountability; environment; socio-economic development; health and safety and materials stewardship.
By its very nature mining must cause some environmental and social disruption. The industry is also inherently dangerous. Our task is to promote develop effective business practices and promote their adoption, thus improving performance and reducing risk.
In addition to their commitment to uphold the 10 principles, ICMM members have shown themselves determined to lead by example in the areas of transparency and sustainable development reporting.
To help them, ICMM has developed a sustainable reporting system in partnership with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which allows systematic reporting across the sector. This requires companies to disclose environmental performance, human rights and health and safety with standard industry indicators for benchmarking progress. In December 2004, ICMM member companies committed to reporting in accordance with the GRI framework within two to three reporting cycles. A target for 2006 is to develop an effective verification procedure whereby stakeholders can see that reported performance statements have been properly validated.
ICMM members are indeed helping to set new standards for the sector – and have been doing so for some time. In line with ICMM principles, Rio Tinto is committed to improving its sustainable development performance in health and safety. “Most injuries occur because of human behavior, which is where we are focusing our efforts,” says Rio Tinto CEO Leigh Clifford. “We are now encouraging employees to see that acting safely is in their own best interests, and inspiring them to act accordingly.”
The company’s safety programs, he says, have brought about a significant reduction in accidents – including fatalities – and lost time at work.
As the world hungers for commodities, the challenge for ICMM and its member companies has been to turn principles into practical actions. It is important to remember that the resource sector is often the only significant source of foreign direct investment in the world’s poorest countries and the challenge is to provide the employment, training and economic opportunities that these countries so desperately need.
The Resource Endowment Initiative, for example, is a major project in ICMM’s social and economic program. It focuses on developing countries to identify practical policies that can be applied to enhance national economic development and poverty reduction. Alongside this is the Community Development Tools project, which is designed to help support sustainable community development to foster long-term growth. Both projects are being undertaken in partnership with the World Bank, national governments and UN agencies.
ICMM’s environmental program is currently focusing on supporting implementation of the ICMM principles relating to biodiversity and mine closure in particular. With regard to biodiversity, ICMM’s principles commit members to respect protected areas and support a more integrated approach to land use and biodiversity. A joint publication by ICMM and The World Conservation Union (IUCN) highlights good practice case studies from around the world and demonstrates how the mining sector can play its part in more effective biodiversity conservation. In addition to a series of real life examples, the publication includes such topics as mineral and resource assessments in Canada and how to integrate biodiversity into an environmental management system.
Given that there may be more than 500,000 abandoned mines in the U.S. alone, mine closure remains an important issue for the industry with the estimated cost for the rehabilitation of hard rock mines standing at a staggering $26 billion. The challenge for ICMM and is members is to find a realistic way forward on this issue and the first steps have been to review international practices and begin work on a position paper to outline the most responsible yet cost effective procedures for mine closure.
Another challenging area is materials stewardship, which in the immediate future includes supporting efforts in areas such as metals recycling and eco-efficiency. The objective is to promote efficiency and reduce risk in the handling and use of materials.
ICMM will continue to develop best practice initiatives in support of the 10 ICMM principles to get its message across. In 2004, for example, ICMM established a partnership with two UN agencies – the Environment Program (UNEP) and the Commission for Trade and development (UNCTAD), as well as the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to develop a Good Practice in Mining web site (www.goodpracticemining.com). The collaborative approach that ICMM has taken to this, and its other projects, has been a key factor in the progress it has made during its short history.
In an industry that still relies on a combination of scientific rigor and pioneering spirit, member companies continue to set high standards. In July 2005, BHP Billiton won Company of the Year at the Business in the Community (BITC) National Awards in the U.K. while at the same event Anglo American won the Oracle International Award for its support for economic development. BITC said Anglo was a pioneer “in understanding the social and business imperatives of their operations.” The challenge for ICMM and its member companies is to work towards more of the same in the cause of sustainable development.
Paul Mitchell is Secretary General of ICMM whose mission it is to drive improvements in the industry’s sustainable development performance. Visit: www.icmm.com.