However, it's in recent years where ESG has really become a key priority for mining companies, the result of a greatly increased acceleration towards new environmental and sustainability performance targets and far more stringent regulations.
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) (an organisation established in 1997 to create an accountability framework for companies to show stakeholders their responsible environmental business practices) first began discussing ESG as an initiative more than 20 years ago. The GRI then began to grow the focus on ESG issues, and soon the term ESG became commonplace in the day-to-day discussions of executives. Today, many investors, businesses and governments use GRI's ESG framework in expressing impacts such as climate change, human rights, governance and social well-being.
Why is good ESG performance critical to a company's success?
There has been a significant change in the level of understanding of the importance of ESG, and the challenges, risks and opportunities it poses to the mining industry. In today's highly competitive market, it's not enough for companies to simply tell their stories about significant discoveries or great production numbers, especially in an environment where customers are placing more emphasis on ESG issues. Companies must have the ability to demonstrate their efforts in supporting local communities, they must establish how they are contributing to the low carbon economy transition, and are required to show how their sourcing is responsible. These issues are now likely to be key deciding factors in commercial decisions, and companies who don't put sufficient energy into driving their ESG agendas and show a genuine interest in creating sustained change, do so at their peril.
Previously, drivers behind ESG initiatives largely centered around financial and corporate institutional concerns or opportunities in response to sustainable development goals and regulations. Today, the focus is much more around measuring ESG performance against a set of goals that satisfies the needs of all stakeholders to ensure sustainable energy outcomes are positive. Safe, productive extraction increases the value of a company's share price too, and investors need to see excellent performance before they invest.
How is the industry adopting good ESG performance?
Currently, within the ESG agenda, decarbonisation stands out as a key talking point in the mining industry — particularly with COP26 on the horizon. An event that draws worldwide attention as parties collaborate to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It will open up more dialogue about keeping carbon emissions in check and encourage companies to reduce negative impacts on the environment.
Good ESG performance also involves disaster management and prevention, making sure that high standards are in place to prevent collapsing mines. It means making sure workers are protected and healthy, as well as looking after the people in communities. And not only limiting the impact of mining in the countries you work in but also driving positive improvements for local communities. Companies with good ESG programmes create relationships with national governments, and they pay the correct amount of taxes and royalties. True adoption of good ESG performance forces companies to consider what their impact on the world is, both good and bad, and how they can better align to the needs of society.
The relationship between ESG and digital transformation
Digital transformation is already having a significant impact on ESG performance, and it has the potential to go a lot further. The most immediate impact is improved data collection, reporting and analysis, and this can feed into every operation and aspect of the business.
If we delve a little further, an excellent example of digital transformation enablement is subsurface and surface infrastructure digital twins, which allow companies to monitor digital asset performance. Digital twins are a sophisticated alternate reality representation of physical assets based on real-world data. They can easily monitor materials, external conditions and maintenance, better enabling companies to improve control and quality measures, and make resource management far more efficient. For sustainability, digital twins can predict and optimise energy consumption, identifying opportunities to minimise waste as well as driving energy-efficient operations. Virtual prototyping and the creation of faster design iterations will also reduce the need for physical tests, saving both energy and resource. In essence, digital twins provide mining companies with an all-encompassing, real-time view across their entire operation, bringing together swathes of organisation-wide data and breaking down the traditional silos that can be a significant hindrance to safe, sustainable and efficient operations.
IoT is part of the solution too. Piezometers gauging water levels and seismic monitors measuring earthquake activity, for instance, can send information into the workflow and generate geological models for analysis, delivering the essential intelligence needed to empower decision-makers to make the right calls. Satellite technology can create high-resolution topography with excellent detail showing the forms and features of land surfaces and how they have changed over a certain time period. Now, it's much easier to put seismic activity, rising water levels and topographical changes into context with dates and other factors that can significantly change the way mines function. Geological experts can use this information more readily, with improved reporting, and have much more productive conversations about how the operational landscape has changed, without having to reinvent the wheel.
Digital transformation and waste management
Digital transformation can help with many other stages of mining, especially the operations concerned with resources and waste management. Mining produces a lot of waste that needs to be handled properly as improper disposal can lead to air, soil and water pollution in the surrounding areas. Not only a major environmental concern but a potentially insurmountable challenge for a mining company to overcome in protecting their brand, reputation and future ability to do business. Waste rock, gangue and mine tailings all need to be processed, sorted and transported to disposal areas. Robotics, AI, IoT, cloud computing and digital analytics all play a part in helping process and scrutinise vast amounts of data - intelligence that can better inform the processes to make operations safer and more sustainable. Mining companies can use these tools and capabilities for electronically supported disposition of waste collection vehicles, for evaluation of sensor data for automated sorting, and for control of incineration.
So, while there is an ever-increasing awareness of the hazards posed by mining, digital transformation is creating a host of solutions that support and streamline mining operations and ESG efforts.
Helping customers excel with their ESG performance
In the pursuit of statutory compliance, we have now seen companies going beyond simply meeting the general standards. Now, they are bringing about cultural changes and entirely new ways of working to manage their operations and using digital tools to be more collaborative and transparent.
To support these efforts, mining companies need integrated workflows to manage data and allowing more effective collaboration with stakeholders, investors and auditors. The more you can improve collaboration between these parties, the better your chances of driving efficiency, profitability, and sustainability. With a holistic overview of moving parts, communication is more streamlined, and with everything visible, auditing is made easier.
The right software empowers companies to make better, more sustainable decisions about their earth, environment, and energy challenges. Seequent's software covers all aspects of the exploration and production mine lifecycle and the integrated nature of its products and ease of use will break down barriers across operations. Alongside local consultancies that support mining companies through the digital transformation while avoiding the common pitfalls of changing ways of working, Seequent is partnering with companies looking to employ effective digital tools to support their ESG efforts.
With the right blend of technology and tools, companies can ensure compliance with increasingly stringent regulations, allowing them to meet the ESG gold standard and deliver genuine and demonstrable sustainability and efficiency efforts.