Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 will require unprecedented cooperation and collaboration among governments, the private sector, communities and non-governmental organizations. A 2016 study by the World Economic Forum, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Columbia Centre for Sustainable Investment showed that the mining sector has the opportunity and potential to positively contribute to all 17 SDGs, often in the poorest and most fragile and remote areas. However, this will require innovation and new ways of working together.
In parallel, we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and experiencing unprecedented change that will fundamentally change the way we work, live and relate. Driven by technological shifts and innovation, the scale, scope, speed and complexity is unlike anything experienced before. Possibilities are enormous and new ways of pursuing opportunity and value are required. However, we do not yet know how it will unfold.
This year’s sustainability forum discussed the critical role that innovation will play in the mining sector and more widely globally to help achieve the SDGs. Governments, industry leaders and communities around the world are increasingly emphasizing innovation performance as a critical factor to secure economic, social and environmental goals. Innovation can help support competitiveness, transparency, inclusion and sustainability. This innovation can take many forms, including technology and digitalization, clean innovation, finance and business models, and partnerships and engagement.
Some 150 representatives from government, industry, civil society and academia gathered for an engaging discussion on March 4, 2017, the day before the official opening of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) annual convention in Toronto, Canada.
The forum was co-hosted by the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainability (IGF), the World Economic Forum and PDAC. It brought together stakeholders from across the mining and metals industry to:
- Explore the role and types of innovation in the mining and metals sector critical to supporting the SDG agenda
- Present examples of innovative practice within the sector that can be shared or scaled
- Stimulate debate and idea creation within the sector
- Explore areas where more focus on innovation in the sector is required and what can be learned from other sectors
- Identify ideas and actions for different stakeholders to enhance the role of innovation in the sector to achieve the SDGs by 2030
The forum was structured around panel discussions and facilitated roundtable discussions.
A PDF of this report—which includes notes from the roundtable discussion—can be downloaded here:
PANEL 1: The Role of Innovation in Mining and the SDGs
This panel set the scene for the event by discussing current activities in areas of innovation around sustainability, sharing examples of good practice from within and outside the sector, and exploring some of the challenges faced.
Cassie Doyle, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute, moderated a lively discussion about current activities in areas of innovation around sustainability, sharing examples of good practice from within and outside the sector and exploring some of the challenges faced.
The panel included:
- Stefania Trombetti, Director General, Lands and Minerals Sector, Natural Resources Canada
- Peter Sinclair, Chief Sustainability Officer, Barrick Gold
- Sonia Molodecky, Co-Founder and President, Global Indigenous Trust
- Carl Weatherell, Executive Director & CEO, Canada Mining Innovation Council
Stefania Trombetti, Director General for the lands and minerals sector at Natural Resources Canada, spoke of the government’s efforts to leverage expertise and funding for innovation. One example is the CanmetMATERIALS mining lab, which is leading work in developing technologies to improve all aspects of producing and using value-added products that are derived from metals and minerals.
While government plays an important role in the innovation space, it’s also important to recognize we all play a role in innovation, Trombetti said, noting that civil society can identify gaps and industry can contribute its expertise. She also discussed the need to share best practices to position industry as a leader in responsible and sustainable resource development.
Peter Sinclair, Chief Sustainability Officer at Barrick Gold, said the mining industry is ripe for innovation and that this needs to happen in all parts of the mining business: human resources, the supply chain, and environmental and community relations.
The industry will quickly run out of resources if we continue mining in the same way, Sinclair said, explaining that we need to look for ways to reduce the mining footprint and create less waste and disturbance.
Getting it right will reduce cost and impact, he added, explaining that it will nonetheless require a significant shift in mindset. He cited two examples of innovative ways in which Barrick Gold has reduced its footprint: a new mining process employed in Nevada that eliminates cyanide use and a patented new technology used in Saudi Arabia that allows the use of wastewater instead of fresh water.
Sonia Molodecky, President of Global Indigenous Trust, spoke of how Indigenous knowledge, expertise and perspectives can play a dramatic role in mining and in development.
We’re starting to see really interesting examples of mining companies integrating traditional knowledge … literally bringing life back to dead land, Molodecky said. Traditional knowledge can mean the difference between a migratory path for caribou or the extinction of a species.
These perspectives can also inform and improve development projects, she said, citing a project with Peruvian dairy farmers who were struggling with the health of their cows. The Global Indigenous Trust helped to introduce Canadian organic farming practices and to plant more trees to improve both soil quality and human health.
Carl Weatherell, Executive Director of Canada Mining Innovation Council, said the mining industry needs to transform itself. He noted that productivity is falling, as is return to shareholders. If we don’t change the business of mining, we won’t have a business of mining.
Weatherell spoke of the need to identify shared objectives such as reducing tailings and water use so that the entire industry can find answers to these complex problems.
Participants self-selected the roundtable and innovation topic they were most interested learning more about. Each roundtable had a moderator who led discussion on one of the following four topics:
- Technology, including digitalization
- Clean innovation, including energy
- Business models, including financing
- Social innovation, including partnerships and engagement
Each table moderator facilitated a discussion around the following three key questions:
- What current innovation have you seen that could be shared or scaled?
- What are biggest gaps and why?
- What concrete action(s) could be taken and by whom?
Notes from these discussions are available here:
PANEL 2: Innovation for Transformation: The next 15 years
Gillian Davidson, former Head of Mining and Metals Industries at the World Economic Forum, moderated a discussion about the opportunities for the mining sector and its stakeholders over the next 5–15 years to catalyze innovation through leadership and collaboration. The panel included:
- Stephen D’Esposito, President, RESOLVE
- Glen Gemerts, Executive Committee Chair, IGF
- John Thompson, Wold Family Professor in Environmental Balance for Human Sustainability, Cornell University
- Nathan Stubina, Managing Director, McEwen Mining
Nathan Stubina, Managing Director of McEwen Mining, spoke of the immense amount of energy and resources required in a typical mining operation. We’re good at making things bigger; we’re not good at making things better, he said, noting that 90–95 per cent of every dollar spent on energy on a mining site is used to manage wastes. He gave an example of a typical mine where the ration is one gram per tonne. If you had to explain to someone how much earth and water we use to make a one-ounce gold coin, it would be very difficult.
As a small mining company, McEwan is forced to innovate in order to make a profit, Stubina said. He noted that there are no shortages of ideas, and McEwan often serves as a testing ground for innovations such as an exploratory probe that can search two kilometres below the earth without having to drill an expensive hole.
John Thompson, Professor of Environmental Balance for Human Sustainability at Cornell University, said: Innovation usually fails because of people, not the technology, and that’s because we don’t prepare. To collaborate effectively you’ve got to give up in order to get, and this industry of ours doesn’t know how to give up stuff: they want to own everything.
Thompson outlined a number of innovations that can help get more metal from less rock. One such technology is a shovel sensor that can help determine whether the material should be taken to a mill or to waste.
The other one is we don’t mine—we can do in situ leeching. You have to think about very complex fracking, and if you think the world’s opposed to fracking, wait until we get started. But the win is so enormous we have to start thinking about it where we don’t mine—all we do is inject fluid into the ground and get our products out.
Glenn Gemerts, IGF Chair and Policy Advisor to N.V. Grassalco and the Ministry of Natural Resources of Suriname, spoke of the need to change“our mindset to consider how we transfer natural capital into human capital.
People are looking for more than royalties. They’re looking for education, a livelihood, Gemerts said, explaining that mining concessions should include a social contract in which all parties are involved.
Systemic change will require major policy reforms by governments, but mining companies also have a role to play. For instance, they could find innovative ways to transform waste into materials that can be used for local development. Mining companies can also serve as catalysts for and partners in change, he said.
Gemerts also noted the need to address the role of small-scale mining and how governments and industry can integrate these actors into development plans.
Stephen D’Esposito, President of RESOLVE, gave an analogy about the typical slow pace of innovation. He mentioned that with regards to suitcases, it took 17 years from the introduction of the first rolling suitcase with wheels in 1970 for someone to add a pull-out handle. It wasn’t until 2004 that the four-wheeled suitcase was introduced.
Decarbonization of the mining industry is going to be required, D’Esposito said. I suspect there will be green innovations: what is the relationship driver between the Teslas at one end and the lithium miners at the other end?
He mentioned that there is a broader conflict in values between the public and the industry. We are in a situation of high-impact mining and low value from the point of view of not actually addressing values—it’s mining versus a community or mining versus ecosystems, he explained. There’s an opportunity to have something going forward if mining decreases its impact.
PDAC Executive Director Andrew Cheatle closed the meeting and thanked participants for their engagement and insights and spoke of the more positive atmosphere at this year’s conference. Our success is your success, Cheatle said. We look forward to doing this again next year.