We should all be advocates for the mining industry

William Gleason

April 4, 2022

At one point during his keynote address at the MINEXCHANGE 2022 SME Annual Conference & Expo in Salt Lake City, UT on Feb. 28, George Hemingway, managing partner and head of Innovation Practice at Stratalis and recipient of the 2021 Robert E. Murray Innovation Award asked the crowd a simple question, “Why are you here?”

My first flippant response was, “Because my bosses, Dave Kanagy and Melanie Penoyar-Perez would not be pleased if I weren’t.”

However, as the conference continued I thought more about that question. Hemingway’s presentation was a thought-provoking talk that tied in very nicely with the presentation that preceded it from United States Ambassador Todd Chapman.

Both talks focused on the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, which have become front and center for the mining industry. As Chapman said, “If you don’t have the social license to operate, you will not have an operation at all.”

Earning and maintaining a social license will increase in importance, complexity and cost in the years to come, and while the work at the corporate level is important, Chapman and Hemingway both noted that the mining industry’s best advocates are those who were sitting in the room, those reading this magazine and those who work in the industry.

At times it can feel like the world is stacked against the mining industry and that many people would rather try to hold it accountable for mistakes made in the past rather than acknowledge the efforts to make the industry safer and more sustainable for all of its stakeholders.

And it can be challenging to defend an industry that many seem to be rooting against — I suppose it would be akin to being a fan of the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys.

Chapman and Hemingway spoke about the challenges and gave some tips on how to deal with detractors. Both men also spoke of the good work being done by the industry.

Hemingway pointed to the work being done in the area of tailings management.

“When you speak to the people who are in charge of tailings in the big mining companies, you find something different than perhaps a few years back. You find a deeper purpose, a passion — a knowledge that what they do matters. They have a purpose — they save lives; they prevent failures — they stand guard,” said Hemingway. “Because it matters. Because they matter. Because they have purpose. And that purpose — that commitment — that authenticity — you know what it breeds? Trust.”

The mining industry suffers from a lack of trust from the general public that does not understand the industry and does not seem too concerned with learning more about it. For the most part, the only time the mining industry is mentioned in the news is when something bad happens. Rarely does one see headlines like, “Rio Tinto achieves three years without a fatality,” splashed across the front page of a daily newspaper.

So it is up to us, those who have found more than just a career in the mining industry, but also a purpose in the work to promote the good things the industry does.

It is up to us to share the facts that the mining industry is a dynamic industry on the leading edge of technologies like automation that make mining safer, and the world safer.

It is up to us to speak about the fact that environmental considerations are a top priority for every mining project.

And it is up to us to remind others that the U.S. mining industry supports nearly 1.4 million jobs, direct and indirect, according to the National Mining Association. And that the mining industry is a critical component of the transition to a new green economy as it will supply the minerals needed for advanced energy technologies.

“There are a lot of whys here. ... but which one of these is your why?” Hemingway asked. “Which is the one that you would be comfortable, authentically saying to a total stranger who asks you the question, “Why do you work in mining?”

“If you can’t find your why, I would urge you to keep asking. Not just of yourself, but of your friends, your colleagues. Ask why they do what they do. See if it resonates — and go deeper, not just into what you do, but into how what you do helps others.

“And then share it. Because that’s how trust is built. By sharing our deeper, personal purposes with the world. It is through these authentic, genuine, personal stories that change happens.”

Share your stories with colleagues and neighbors and with us, here at SME at SME’s Why I SME page at www.smenet.org/Membership-Benefits/Why-I-SME.


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