Social license to operate is the focus of MINEXCHANGE 2022

William Gleason

March 7, 2022

Nearly 5,000 people gathered in Salt Lake City, UT from Feb. 28-March 3 for the MINEXCHANGE 2022 SME Annual Conference and Expo. The conference included a wide range of technical sessions covering the full breadth of the mining and underground construction industries as well as a vibrant exhibit hall with 472 companies exhibiting the latest in cutting-edge technology.

The conference kicked off with a keynote address from U.S. Ambassador Todd Chapman who addressed a large crowd with a speech titled “The undiplomatic truth: Mining missing the mark on securing popular support.” Chapman served the United States as a career diplomat for more than 30 years. During the Trump and Biden Administrations he was U.S. Ambassador to Brazil where he advanced a broad economic, security, and environmental agenda at the sixth-largest U.S. Embassy in the world. 

In his travels around the world, Chapman witnessed first-hand the impact that mining had on local communities as well as the opposition to mining by many of those communities. During the keynote address, he spoke about how his role representing the United States is not so different than that of the people in the crowd who represent mining companies around the world.

Chapman spoke broadly about the need for mining companies to earn a social license to operate, saying simply, “if you do not have the social license to operate, you do not have an operation.”

This was a theme throughout the conference as the mining industry has found itself under an immense amount of pressure from all stakeholders to operate at a socially and environmentally sustainable way. During the four-day conference there were a number of examples of the mining industry working toward that end. Some of these included:

? The announcement of a partnership between Newmont Corporation and SME with the goal of developing the growth and talent of Newmont’s workforce. “SME is the most important mining network in the U.S. and around the globe, bringing together professionals from different fields to network and exchange ideas on best practices.?This partnership will bring tremendous value to our employees and other mining professionals, and it will help drive Newmont’s purpose to create value and improve lives through sustainable and responsible mining.
? The launch of the “Tailings Management Handbook. A life-cycle approach,” edited by Kimberly Morrison. This new handbook is a guide that will help improve the operations and safety at tailings and waste management facilities around the world.
? A diversity and inclusion panel chaired by Victoria Gosteva of Newmont that focused on the workforce issues that the mining industry is facing today and how inclusion and diversity can be part of the solution.
? Technical sessions that focused on environmental stewardship, health and safety and governance issues.

Chapman, who had the honor of setting the tone for the conference spoke about the similarities of serving as an ambassador to the United States and serving as a representative of a mining company.

Among the most significant challenge, Chapman said is timing.

“Industry is looking long-term and the community is looking at right now and that is very hard to bridge that gap,” he said. “One of the challenges is how to bring the benefits forward to meet the political cycle. We need to have deliverables … the question becomes, “what can we deliver right now to make things a success?”

Moving forward, Chapman provided some advice from lessons he learned during his decades as an ambassador for the United States. He said representing the United States in foreign lands and representing a mining company are similar in many ways including that both are trying to achieve positive outcomes that are mutually beneficial, but like the United States, mining companies are not universally loved, or welcomed and are often accused of doing terrible things.

Chapman said it is imperative for the mining industry to address falsehoods head on, shape perceptions of the mining project or they will be shaped for you and to work with the press and with social media be sure the message is clear and factual.

George Hemingway, managing partner and head of Innovation Practice, Stratalis and recipient of the 2021 Robert E. Murray Innovation Award also spoke during the Keynote session and spoke on similar themes of having a consistent message and the power of the individual in the room to be an ambassador for the industry.

In the years shaped by disruption from a global pandemic and geo-political turmoil, Hemingway noted that many people look to activism as coping measure and some of that activism includes movements that would halt the mining industry.

“The world is still looking for answers – or scapegoats; and it will eventually find them,” said Hemingway. “Big businesses, like banking, pharmaceuticals, aviation and natural resources, are still very much in the crosshairs.”

Ironically, the world will need mining and the products it produces now more than ever if it is it to transition to a cleaner and greener energy economy that many activist are calling for, but, Hemingway said, the industry has a perception problem that stems in part from past accidents, workforce and other societal issues.

Like Chapman, Hemingway said social license to operate is the greatest challenge facing the mining industry. The mining industry needs to build trust to earn that social license and he suggested one of the best ways to build that trust is for those in the room and in the industry to be ambassadors.

Hemingway asked a simple question of the crowd, “Why are you here?” “Why do I work in mining?” Why am I here today?”

“More than ever – it is clear that it is not “What” we do… but “Why” we do it, that matters. That the smallest voices, unified not behind a single message but in many individual messages of purpose can build that trust quilt that the industry needs to keep itself insulated in order to transform in uncertain times,” he said.

Full coverage of the MINEXCHANGE 2022 SME Annual Conference & Expo will be available in the April issue of Mining Engineering magazine.


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