Environmental Sustainability and Social Responsibility within Brazil’s Mining Industry

Brazil’s top mining companies are driving the effort to achieve world-class standards

Brazil’s borders encapsulate the vast majority of the Amazon Rainforest: a unique symbol of nature’s strength and the focus of attention from Copenhagen to Kyoto. Brazil has adopted some of the most stringent environmental regulations known to the international mining industry and demands the highest possible standards from the dozen or so mining firms that dominate mineral production in the country. Brazil’s work in protecting its rainforest sets a good example for the world. “Brazil has an A class mining industry that still has a great deal of development to look forward to. Everyone in Brazil wants to do the right thing,” said Helcio Guerra, vice president of AngloGold Ashanti.

Economic growth and integration of the Amazon Region are capable of promoting continuous improvement of the quality of life of its population and are unthinkable without the development of its mineral resources, according to the ADIMB. During the past decades, the mining industry has effectively contributed to the improvement of the living standards of [Amazon] populations, generating new jobs and building infrastructures for the region. The contribution of the mining sector to the sustainable development of that region is relevant and effective. The preservation of the environment is not jeopardized by organized mining activity.

Mining is often perceived as a major threat to eco-systems, however the main threat to today’s Amazon rainforest is the agricultural production of commodities such as soybeans and cattle.

Corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability are the life-blood of Brazil’s contemporary mining industry. This is demonstrated by Alcoa’s Juruti project in terms of its depth and scale of community engagement and its environmental ambitions. “We will know exactly how unique and successful the Juruti project is in 75 to 100 years from now when the bauxite reserves have been exhausted and we have the opportunity to find out whether the original area has been returned to its original biodiversity and environmental state, and the Juruti municipality has found a path of economic development independent of the Juruti bauxite mine,” Feder said. “These two issues are the key metrics this project should be judged by. The municipality of Juruti has approximately 45,000 inhabitants distributed between 180 towns, villages and cities. Thousands of these people were involved in the public consultation process that occurred in the early stages of the project. More than 6,000 were involved in the public consultations that occurred in Juruti city. Alcoa understood from the very beginning that this project would only work if we brought the community together with us into the mine. By concept, the Juruti mine is fully integrated with the local community; there are no fences around the project aside from those areas where individual personal safety would come into question. The schools and infrastructure we are developing are all open to the community. This is by no means an act of philanthropy from Alcoa; the only way this was going to work was if we brought the community along with us.

“Not all of our discussions with the community have been easy,” Feder said. “What is most important is we have engaged throughout the entire population and the two major opinion polls we have conducted have demonstrated an overwhelming majority of the local community are in favor of the project. Some older sections of the community are more averse to change and we understand that perspective, however many of the younger people see this as an opportunity to get a job and grow the local economy.

“It has been important for Alcoa to take all of these perspectives into account and build them into our plans,” Feder said. “From the outset, Alcoa has engaged with numerous NGOs, resulting in an excellent network of help, assistance and engagement for Alcoa in Juruti. The model Alcoa is operating involves three principles. First, Alcoa is not the municipal government in Juruti; we don’t want to be confused as this. Alcoa’s view is that fundamentally it is the local people that are responsible for the development of the region; Alcoa has acted as a catalyst in achieving this. We established a local council with 16 seats for a variety of institutions; Alcoa occupies one of these seats.

“The second key principle involves metrics; how do we measure our success? A series of metrics ranging from how many trees have been felled to adolescent pregnancy rates have been developed for us to better understand Alcoa’s impact upon the local communities in Juruti,” Feder said. “The Getulio Vargas Foundation has been the key player in developing these metrics, engaging community members to decide what is important for them.

“The third element of Alcoa’s approach involves the implementation of a development fund,” Feder said. “We are undertaking a process whereby we can train people in determining key requirements, and developing business cases in order to achieve their objectives in realizing such requirements. The bottom line is that this is an experiment and Alcoa is committed to achieving success in the Juruti project.”

The focus on environmental sustainability and community engagement in the Brazilian mining industry is led from the top, with major players such as Vale, Votorantim, Ferrous, Alcoa and Yamana at the forefront of the industry’s investments in this vital area. Despite a widespread population of garimperos throughout Brazil, whose practices are often far from environmentally sustainable, Brazilian mining standards are increasingly regarded as matching those of Australia and Canada. Equipment suppliers and services suppliers such as Metso, Tracbel, Enfil, Coffey, SRK and AMEC also invest significant time and energy in working with local communities, training and development, as well as innovating with the development of more environmentally sustainable technologies such as low impact emissions filters and energy efficient engines.

“Safety and sustainable development issues are recognized as key value drivers within Anglo American,” said Stephan Weber, president, Brazilian iron ore, Anglo American. “Anglo American has been included among the top 20 companies for the third year consecutive as an example in sustainability by the Guia Exame de Sustentabilidade. We have also been named to have the safest mine in Brazil by the Brazilian magazine, Brazil Mineral.

“Anglo American has one of the best tools for social environmental impact assessment,” Weber said. “The Social Economic Assessment Toolbox [SEAT] was developed by Anglo American in 2004 and aims to improve the company’s understanding of our socio-economic impacts, whether positive or negative. In 2006, SEAT was considered by the One World Trust as the best tool for social environmental impact assessment globally. It is possible to build a more structured dialogue with stakeholders to create better internal capacity to manage social and environmental issues and advances in terms of transparency and local accountability. SEAT enables us to better understand the concerns, needs and priorities of communities associated with Anglo American’s operations. Our commitment to safety and sustainable development includes ensuring that we act consistently across the group in relation to safety, health and the environment. Anglo American works in partnership with NGOs to create development opportunities in the local communities, as well as to invest in education, health and sustainable activities like music school, e-learning projects and social prevention against HIV. Mining can be a source of development for communities living in remote areas.”

 

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