heavy machinery on mining site
Insight

ESG insights: practical steps for tailings on your Mining ESG journey

David Ritchie Managing Principal, Mine Waste Engineering Manager
David Ritchie

David has over 23 years of experience with tailings, mine waste, and water management facility design for global mining clients and direct experience with embankment dam design, instrumentation and performance monitoring, and safety stewardship within Canada and the CDA guidelines. In addition to a focus on tailings facility design, David has direct experience with site selection studies, dam design and construction, operations and closure.

In our series of articles on ESG in Mining, we have so far sought to highlight why miners should take ESG seriously and how to prioritise both your major risks and opportunities. In this fourth article we offer some practical advice on next steps to help you build on the ESG foundation you will already have in place for tailings and mine waste management (even if you don’t recognise it as that).

ESG principles are increasingly being adopted by the mining industry in response to public, investor and commercial pressures for further change and improvement. Such change is not new to the mining industry: major changes on this agenda date back to the 1980s and include environmental impact concerns, geochemical controls on acid drainage, and the social implications of mining developments. Recent catastrophic dam failures have returned the focus to tailings.

While corporate strategies and management systems to address these changes have been developed and driven from C-suite offices, it has invariably required project development and mine operations to implement plans and deliver measurable change.

A successful ESG programme today is just an extension of that agenda. There may now be the need to assess and prioritise within an all-encompassing programme and adopt a more holistic approach, but the supporting guidelines and frameworks are already available and the principles of ESG are well understood. And the need to do the right studies, with the right team, and adopt an integrated approach through the mine life cycle is as true today as ever.

Here are four areas you can act on today to advance your ESG programme and build on the foundation you already have in place:

 

  1. Environmental and social risk management – Ensure you operate throughout the project life cycle in accordance with international best practice (e.g., World Bank / IFC Performance Standards). Identify your communities of interest (COI): inform, listen to feedback and act proactively, then adapt, review and stay connected.
     

  2. Corporate commitment to zero-harm – consider here both:

    •  The recently released Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (ICMM/UNEP/PRI) builds on existing best practice guidance including the Mining Association of Canada’s Toward Sustainable Mining program and the Dam Safety Guidelines of the Canadian Dam Association. And be aware that your COI are global.

    • Closure financial assurance and your financial commitment to stable rehabilitation – physical, chemical, ecological, and social. Understand your life of mine requirements, characterise your mine wastes, and develop and implement appropriate mitigation plans. And be realistic about closure cost assumptions.
       

  3. Project design framework - Focus on the issues (design drivers) and do the right studies, using the right people. Keep a broad perspective – consider future expansion, consider early shut-down, and design with flexibility. Consider multiple alternatives and evaluate them rigorously to identify the optimal solution.
     

  4. Project implementation and operation - Keep the team integrated – environmental and engineering drivers don’t change – and maintain a risk register to review/update regularly. Regularly review performance and check against the design intent and COI commitments.
     

To speak to one of our mining experts about your site, please get in touch.

Written by:

David Ritchie (Managing Principal) and Derek Riehm (Principal Consultant)