Friday, March 9, 2012

PDAC 2012: Now I’m a believer

For the past number of years, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention has offered sessions on sustainability, CSR, aboriginal issues etc. I have attended both the convention and some of those sessions, always feeling a bit irrelevant.

However, this year the CSR Event Series played to a packed audience at sessions I was at, and from talking to other delegates, it appears that the entire series of 6 was very well attended. The level of discussion and questions was also excellent, especially compared to a kind of ‘tell me again why this matters’ attitude that I have sometimes heard in the past.

The first ever CEO panel on sustainable development and corporate strategy took place on Tuesday afternoon, organized by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM). ICMM President Tony Hodge, moderating the panel, opined that had he suggested such a topic a few years ago, he would have been met with bewilderment, ‘it’s a remarkable reflection of the growth in this industry that we are having this conversation, and something we should be very proud of.’

Identifying the top three issues they face with respect to sustainable development were the CEO’s of Barrick Gold, Avalon Rare Metals, Teck, Iamgold and Minmetals Resources. Establishing and maintaining a social license to operate was a given. Discussion focused more on what it takes to do that. How do we deal with law and order, especially as we go into less developed countries and conflict zones? What about water, at both extremes – trucking water in to drought stricken areas, and dealing with capturing and containing run off during flooding? Local and indigenous employment, resource endowment/nationalism – it was apparent that these companies are not just paying lip service to the idea of sustainability but are grappling with complex issues that have no easy answers.

A few of the CEO’s commented on the challenge and opportunity offered by social media. Don Lindsay of Teck noted that stories about mining operations can now be spread worldwide in a matter of minutes. ‘But for those companies that have made sustainability an integral part of their operations, it’s also a chance to tell our story.’

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