Impact through responsible production

While the mining industry makes a significant contribution to South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the full economic impact is actually much greater. “Mining is a mining company’s core business, and mining itself is a major job generator. But its own value chain has a major spin-off not only in terms of the value it creates but its influence on people’s lives and the social fabric,” comments Dr. Eduard Vorster, Managing Director, Resources, at leading consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Zutari.

He adds that Mining Indaba 2023 focused distinctly on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues relating to the mining industry. “There were interesting discussions around what the industry intends to do and what plans are immediately implementable.”

Dr. Vorster says the mining industry is interested in radically collaborative partnerships to address ESG issues and the larger Just Energy Transition. “It is not just about their businesses, although that would be a powerful driver, they want to be radical in their collaboration. These drivers for infrastructure coalesce in the nexus of energy, water and logistics. At Zutari, we are privileged to have the skill sets to deal with much of that value chain question within our walls. It begins with talking about climate change and progresses to formulating a strategy to become net zero carbon, or how to reduce carbon emissions, deal with water supply issues, and also engage directly with municipalities on these issues through the mechanism of the mine itself. This opens the discussion to broader concerns, such as major logistics routes, how they interconnect, and what improvements can be made from an operational or project perspective.” says Dr. Vorster.

Acknowledging that the logistical problems facing the mining industry are complex, Dr. Vorster says it extends well beyond a lack of maintenance in terms of the infrastructure capacity. “It is also the related security issues and the question of focusing not only on large established businesses but also allowing upcoming businesses to get their goods to market.”

“It is wise for us to consider the notion of collaborating quite radically and not just think of one asset and its intrinsic value but to consider the problem holistically. That requires partnership, wisdom and action. It cannot just be thought about and implemented at a governmental level. It requires an action grouping of stakeholders that require some economic value in a short time while enabling responsible production for the future” says Dr. Vorster. Zutari’s role in this larger discussion is that it is not only involved in the mining industry or road and rail as a strategic advisor, but has pegged its influence on the entire project value chain.

This begins from just after a company starts rolling out its internal strategy to its physical implementation and bringing all the different sectors together in a knowledge base. One also needs to lead boldly. Zutari, for example, is publishing its second sustainability report this year. “We do not have to because we are not a listed company, but we are making a strong stand that if you say you are going to make an impact, you need to do so in terms of an acceptable framework.” Zutari has chosen the UN Sustainability Development Goals to gauge its impact across the projects it involves.

“It is the same in the mining environment,” stresses Dr. Vorster. The notion that one wants to do better and invest in increasing your positive impact must be a positive journey. “As an established large mining company, your ability to make a big impact is much greater. We should expect those companies to make leaps and bounds regarding technology.”

Due to the Just Energy Transition, Dr. Vorster highlights that the discussion invariably centres on the thermal coal mining sector. He says some companies will play out their coal concessions to their end of life. Others take a much more radical view, investing in a different energy source, such as renewables, while cleaning up the way they mine and the coal product they produce and linking it to the broader economic development.

Interestingly, thermal coal miners do not say they will stop mining until their reserves run out. Still, they are committed to offsetting the impact and contributing to a sustainable future for all. “It is important to make a stance. It was succinctly said at Mining Indaba 2023 that nobody could be oblivious to the problem. It enables one’s own sustainable production goals as a choice. That is extremely important. Especially in Africa and even some places in the Middle East, it cannot be that radical a decision; it has to be for the good of the people and our collective greater good, otherwise, it does not happen,” concludes Dr. Vorster.

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