The first thought leadership panel of the Global Mining Symposium was focused on sustainability and the importance of the shift from commitments to action by the mining industry. Moderated by Henry Stoch, Deloitte’s Canadian sustainability and climate change leader, the panel featured Marcia Smith, senior vice president, sustainability and external affairs with Teck Resources (TSX: TECK.B; NYSE: TECK), and Ian Pearce, chair and independent director at Hattrick Resources.
Stoch began by discussing how recent events such as the Paris Climate Agreement and Vale’s (NYSE: VALE) Brumadinho tailings disaster in Brazil have made some mining companies become more actively engaged in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and whether this has changed the way people view the mining industry.
Teck’s Marcia Smith said she felt that events such as Brumadinho did, in fact, have an impact on people’s views of the mining industry, yet she maintained that there had been a broader reassessment of business in general, especially when coupled with the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic and movements like Black Lives Matter. “I think our whole society has different expectations of how companies work,” she said.
The moderator then asked how mining companies could deal with the “push and pull” factors that influence business plans, especially if management teams are reacting to things that cause them to stray from fundamental issues, like sustainability.
Hattrick’s Ian Pearce had some simple advice to offer: “The long term is what’s important,” he said, adding that it was important to “look to the future rather than react to the present.”
To maintain focus in the wake of these factors, Pearce said, requires the need for a leadership position, starting at the board level, as good governance will lead the way forward for a company and its ESG goals.
Smith agreed and pointed out that Teck began setting out goals a decade ago.
“That wasn’t driven by ESG. It was driven by our view that we have an impact on the environment, on communities – both positive and negative,” she said. “It was driven by our employees. What kind of company do they want to work for? And a decade on that is what’s still driving us.”
Smith also reminded the audience that mining brings great wealth, and mining companies want to be good performers. As a result, Smith said that the mining industry has a lot to teach other industries.
Nevertheless, moderator Stoch said he worried that the mining sector might struggle to maintain its commitments, or, worse, be in over its head.
Smith disagreed, though she did admit that mining might be a little behind when it comes to ESG. She suggested that executives should take a step back and assess the issues that matter most to the company, such as the environment.
Pearce emphasized the importance of having wide stakeholder engagement. “You have to listen. The other thing that is very powerful is you co-create with those stakeholders.”
The conversation then pivoted to how a company goes about setting goals. Smith noted that the way Teck did it was by listening, learning, and trying not to do everything, but instead, prioritize goals and be flexible on the way towards achieving them.
“We set [initial] goals in 2010, reviewed [them] in 2015, and launched our updated goals in March of this year,” she said, adding that among the revised goals was Teck’s decision to be carbon neutral by 2050.
This led Deloitte’s Stoch to wonder what happens when a company doesn’t achieve its goals?
“Ultimately when you’re setting goals, they can be stretched,” Smith offered. “You can’t set a goal and then do nothing. You have to work at it. Set goals, try hard to achieve them, and be transparent.”
Stoch then asked the audience if mining companies should spend time influencing players within the value chain to achieve sustainability commitments.
The response to the online poll was that 75% of the audience felt results could only be achieved through partnering with value chain and ecosystem partners.
Smith agreed, saying it should be embedded in a company’s business strategy. “Mining has to know where to build partnerships,” she said. “Sustainability belongs to all of us [at Teck]. It is fundamental to our success as a company.”
Pearce picked up on this, stating that issues like sustainability should govern a company’s thinking and be part of its strategic plan, as the way the world conducts business is transforming, and that very much includes the mining sector.