Sustainability and strategy – lessons from the mining industry

For many companies, sustainability continues to be a communications challenge, particularly when accusations of ‘greenwashing’ abound. For the mining industry, however, sustainability is not just a box-ticking exercise – it is a very real operational challenge. And communications is a critical component to the delivery of a company’s sustainability strategy.

The technical challenges of dealing with climate change, ageing infrastructure, sufficient water supply and increasing population density are the obvious hurdles to developing and operating a sustainable project, which means, historically, sustainability has been viewed as an operational risk. But for an increasing number of stakeholders, it is now being treated as a strategic business risk and has elevated to board level.

As developing countries look to take greater ownership of their natural resources, companies must work harder  to work with  government and local communities on a long term strategy  – a mining project is usually longer than a political term. While companies face the challenge of balancing efficiency against growing pressure to increase CSR spend, governments balance supporting local communities with creating an attractive jurisdiction for foreign investment. If companies are proactively working towards sustainable solutions but not communicating this effectively, the value in these solutions is significantly reduced.

Companies must listen rather than dictate, work collaboratively not independently and educate, not baffle with technical jargon. Experts have said the best solutions to sustainability challenges acknowledge the whole eco-system, avoid broad brush “text book” ideas, work in partnership with stakeholders, and consider the life cycle of the project. The solution is a combination of science and open dialogue.

Many mining companies are doing more than what is required by law in an effort to build sustainable projects. But, if they don’t tell this story to all their stakeholders, then value for both the company and its investors is being lost.

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