Shaping the agenda for a sustainable mining industry – by Nigel Court (Australian Mining – July 22, 2014)

According to the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, 63 per cent of chief executives expect sustainability to transform their industry within the next five years. Mining and metals companies, in particular, have an important role to play in the evolution to a more sustainable world.

With operations on almost every continent, and materials integrated into most products and services, the sector is uniquely positioned to contribute to and influence this transition.

To successfully navigate this shift though, bold thinking is required, and those that look to shape the outcome rather than react to it will be best positioned for success.

But what defines “sustainability”? According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Scoping Paper: Mining and Metals in a Sustainable World, developed in partnership with Accenture, a sustainable world will require the mining and metals sector to reliably and responsibly provide materials and products to global economies and communities.

By 2050, alternative measures of success will exist beyond profit and loss, where environmental and social costs, as well as their impacts, are considered and accounted for. The mining and metals sector has an opportunity now to strategically consider how these trends could affect both the demand for products and the means of providing sufficient supply.

The project planning cycles for mining and metals companies are sufficiently long that they can plan today for how they’ll operate in a sustainable world. Critically, communities, civil society, investors and governments will not tolerate unsustainable mining and metals companies, so a proactive response is imperative.

The manner in which mining and metals companies respond to this change will affect their market position, reputation and value.

The Mining and Metals in a Sustainable World Scoping Paper outlines five actions companies must take now to proactively prepare to contribute positively to a sustainable future. Below, we focus on three of these steps to assist companies in directing their current focus.

1. Invest in research and development (R&D)

Mining operations that make the most successful transition to a sustainable world will begin investing in and maximising automation technologies across the mining life cycle to improve safety, increase productivity and reduce costs. Key usage cases and opportunities identified by the WEF and Accenture report that support a transition to more sustainable operations include:

  • sensing and fusion technologies enabling comprehensive geometric and geophysical data profiles of a region during exploration;
  • automated robotics to design the safest, most cost-effective processes for extracting ore;
  • automated drilling systems to reduce variation, improve quality and reduce maintenance costs; and
  • driverless fleets or railway operations that utilise object-avoidance sensors, GPS and wireless technology to create a safer environment.

Data capture and analytics also present an enormous opportunity for companies to improve decision-making and proactively manage site operations, leading to increased minerals yields, optimised energy use and reduced wear and tear.

A more nascent technology worth considering to significantly impact the sustainability of operations is 3D printing. Successful application of this technology will reduce maintenance downtime because spare parts can be made on-site, having a particular impact in remote regions.

For the rest of this article, click here: