One re-occurring term readers will notice in this edition of Engineering & Mining Journal (E&MJ) is complacency. Anglo American’s new CEO Mark Cutifani warned delegates about it at the World Mining Congress (see News, p. 7-8) and it’s mentioned again in CSR, Sustainability and the Mining Business (See Sustainability, p. 30). Defined as self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies, it’s a term that could be used to describe the state-of-mind of many mining companies in their approach to R&D, public relations, corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability and transparency.
When it comes to community relations, many of the top mining companies believe they are doing a great job and they are, especially compared to what was happening just five or 10 years ago. No one wants to brag, but it’s safe to say that some companies are reasonably satisfied. At the same time, others are becoming more aware of the actual dangers related to communication and community relations. Society now takes the 24-hour news cycle for granted and the world has grown considerably smaller in a very short period of time. Now, social media is adding a new dynamic to the mix. It could help mining companies tell their story to a different audience. However, it will more likely allow its detractors to expose perceived deficiencies and broadcast them. Tweeting links to YouTube, a small band of environmental activists could seriously damage the credibility a mining company has worked for years to establish.
E&MJ is a reflection of the industry and it had a similar, if not worse approach. The E&MJ editorial team is second to none when it comes to covering mining and mineral processing, but we would commit only a handful of pages once or twice a year to cover CSR and sustainability and felt satisfied with the coverage. The reality is that doesn’t begin to do the subject justice. Being a mining engineer, my interests lie elsewhere and I sometimes find it difficult to remain engaged when it comes to CSR.
So at the beginning of the year, we brought a new writer on board, Joseph Kirschke, who is now E&MJ’s news editor. He worked on the journalism side of the business. Aside from mining news (he compiles the free E&MJ eNews service), he has a keen interest in CSR and is constantly surprised by the great work the mining business is doing and its ambivalence toward telling its story. He has written a 12-page sustainability article for this edition. In it, he adds the term “sustainababble” to the E&MJ lexicon. In the article, Kirschke gives a straight-forward portrayal of the situation. Soon Kirschke will begin blogging about sustainability and CSR on the E&MJ Website (www.e-mj.com) and those discussions will materialize as future articles.
Mining companies are feeling margin pressures with metals prices retreating recently. Cutifani said that the mining industry is “woefully under-spending on innovation and business-improvement programs given the state of extraction challenges.” He also stressed that the industry must take bolder approaches to get its story, and value, across to political and community leaders. Now is not the time to pull back on spending. If anything, mining companies should invest more now to find ways to improve.