Today’s society is challenging the assumptions of the traditional social and environmental impact approaches. For its part, the industry has a key role to play in capturing and communicating the full value of its mining and processing activities and products. Box 1 shows a set of questions for addressing the sustainable development contribution of mining. This approach was first championed by the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development project in 2002, a project that undertook a far-reaching examination of industry practices and that contributed to the decision by leaders in the mining industry to form ICMM.
There can be no doubt that mining projects and the resulting mineral and metal products have a significant impact on human society and on the global ecosystem. Mine projects are a source of livelihood and well-being for millions of people. For emerging nations they attract foreign direct investment, domestic investment, foreign earnings and government revenues. At the local level they provide an opportunity for employment, support for entrepreneurs to provide goods and services needed by mining activities and contribute to infrastructure and services in the local community.
Often located in remote areas, mining can provide a unique means for stimulating local economic activity. Throughout history, mineral discoveries have catalyzed the development of sparsely populated and remote areas. The discovery and development of mineral resources has provided an opportunity for addressing poverty reduction and helping countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
However, local social and environmental implications are significant and can result in major socio-economic challenges. When mismanagement occurs (whether by government, company or community), the resulting impact can be adverse and severe. If a perceived or real inequitable distribution of costs, benefits, risks and responsibilities occurs, tensions can split a community, undermine a company’s reputation and at worst, lead to conflict.
Importantly, while minerals and metals provide a material foundation for contemporary society, they are also a means for transforming current society into one marked by greater efficiencies, lower environmental stresses and more effective public services. Just as the businesses that produced them must be carefully managed, so too should the contribution these products can make to ensure that the benefits from their usage are realized.
Many of the complex issues facing modern mining and metals operations require collaborative involvement ofmultiple stakeholders. If such collaborations are to be effective, the responsibilities carried by companies,governments, communities and civil society must be clearly defined. These definitions must be accompanied by a monitoring, reporting and evaluation system that facilitates the enforcement of these responsibilities and enablesstakeholders to learn from mistakes and successes.