Tag Archives: Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance

ERM on executing the mining sector’s sustainability strategies

With sustainability close to the number one topic shaping the business landscape, the mining industry faces perhaps more scrutiny today than ever before. From stakeholder engagement to employee welfare and the emissions generated from using mined commodities, there is a spectrum of issues on which mining companies are judged. Not just by traditional critics such as NGOs, but increasingly by policymakers, investors and consumers themselves.

As a result, mining companies are seeking the advice of consultants that live and breathe environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues to adapt to this evolving backdrop (see the mining consultants focus in IM October 2021 for more on this).

In this regard, they don’t come much bigger than ERM, which calls itself the largest global pure play sustainability consultancy. With a remit that goes into strategic, operational and tactical challenges, the company’s services have been in serious demand of late.

Louise Pearce, ERM Global Mining Lead; Jonathan Molyneux, ERM Mining ESG Strategy Lead; Peter Rawlings, Low Carbon Economy Transition Lead; and Geraint Bowden, Regional Client Director – Mining, were happy to go into some detail about how the company is serving the industry across multiple disciplines.

In demand

According to the four, there is increasing demand for services from miners interested in energy/battery minerals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, platinum, palladium and rhodium (PGMs)) on the back of rising numbers of new mines coming onto the scene, “shorter supply chains to customers”, the perceived need to secure domestic supply of these minerals, and requirements of “evidence of responsibly-produced certifications from industry organisations such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)”.

Such trends have been underwritten by a shift in both the requirements and considerations around the extraction of these minerals, according to Molyneux.

“In the last five to seven years, the main ESG incentives for change have come from access to capital (ie investor ESG preferences, especially in relation to catastrophic incidents),” he said.

“Over the last three years, we have seen a strong rise in expectations from downstream customers, particularly leading brands.”

Jonathan Molyneux, ERM Mining ESG Strategy Lead

Automotive original equipment manufacturers like BMW and Daimler are placing sustainability at the centre of their brands, according to ERM. Their initial focus has been on ‘net-zero’ driving/electrification – and they have made progress on this with several major electric car launches. They then shifted to examining the carbon emissions and ESG, or responsible practices, of tier-one and tier-two component manufacturers. The last step has been a full analysis of the ESG credentials of input materials right back to source, ie the mine.

“We see a shift from the historic lens of customers managing supply risk by sourcing from organisations which ‘do little/no harm’ (eg human rights compliance, catastrophic incident avoidance) to supply partners that can contribute to the ‘do net good’ or ‘create value for all stakeholders’ (ie communities, workforce, nature positive),” Pearce said.

Such a shift has resulted in more clients considering “circular thinking” in their operational strategy, as well as carrying out risk reviews and transformation projects focused on a company’s social or cultural heritage. Tied to this, these same companies have been evaluating their water use, biodiversity requirements and, of course, decarbonisation efforts.

It is the latter on which the steel raw materials companies predominantly have been looking for advice, according to ERM.

The focus has been on ‘green’ iron ore, low-carbon steel and ‘circular’ steel, according to Molyneux and Bowden, with ERM providing input on how companies in this supply chain can integrate sustainability into their strategy and operations.

On the thermal coal side, meanwhile, it is a very different type of ERM service in demand: mine retirements, closure/local/regional regeneration transitions and responsible disposals.

Delivering on decarbonisation

The mining industry decarbonisation targets have come thick and fast in the last 18-24 months, with the latest announcement from the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) seeing all 28 mining and metals members sign up to a goal of net zero Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

Many have gone further than Scope 1 (direct emissions from owned or controlled sources) and Scope 2 (indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company) emissions, looking at including Scope 3 (all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain) targets.

Fortescue Metals Group, this month, announced what it said is an industry-leading target to achieve net zero Scope 3 emissions by 2040, for example.

These are essential goals – and ones that all interested parties are calling for – in order to deliver on the Paris Agreement, yet many miners are not yet in the position to deliver on them, according to Pearce, Molyneux, Rawlings and Bowden.

“Miners need to look at decarbonisation at a holistic level across their operations and value chain, and cannot just delegate the net zero requirements to individual assets,” Rawlings said. “The solutions needed require investment and are often at a scale well beyond individual assets/sites.”

Much of this decarbonisation effort mirrors other industries, with the use of alternative fuels for plant and equipment, accessing renewable electricity supplies, etc, they said.

Process-specific activities can present challenges and is where innovation is required.

“These hard to abate areas are where a lot of efforts are currently focused,” Rawlings said.

Tied into this discussion is the allowance and estimates made for carbon.

There has been anecdotal evidence of miners taking account of carbon in annual and technical reports – a recent standout example being OZ Minerals inclusion of a carbon price in determining the valuation of its Prominent Hill shaft expansion project in South Australia – but there is no current legislation in place.

“We are seeing a broad spectrum of price and sophistication (targeted audience, knowledge level), but it is an active board level discussion for most clients,” Bowden said on this subject. “Most clients view this as market-driven requirements as opposed to a voluntary disclosure.”

This has been driven, in part, from the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which many miners – including all the majors – are aligning their reporting with.

Some clients are also looking into scenarios to work around carbon regimes such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which proposes a carbon-based levy on imports of specific products.

Having acquired several companies in recent months focused on the low carbon economy transition – such as E4tech, Element Energy and RCG – ERM feels best placed to provide the technical expertise and experience to deliver the sustainable energy solutions miners require to decarbonise their operations.

“With these companies, combined with ERM’s expertise, it means we can support clients on the decarbonisation journeys from the initial strategy and ambition development through to implementation and delivery of their roadmaps,” Rawlings said. “We can support clients from boots to boardroom as they assess decarbonisation options and technologies; help them understand the financial, policy and practical aspects linked to deployment of solutions; and access the financing necessary to support deployment.”

ESG dilemmas

There is more to this evolving backdrop than setting and meeting ambitious environmental goals, yet, in ERM’s experience, the advice provided by consultants – and requested by miners – has historically been focused on individual ESG domains.

“This has often been driven by their realisation that their (miner’s) in-house policies and standards require updating,” Pearce said.

Louise Pearce, ERM Global Mining Lead

A siloed or disaggregated approach to ESG strategy development often reduces risk, but rarely generates value for the enterprise at hand, according to Pearce.

“What we have learned is that in order for organisations to create value, they need to focus on value drivers for the corporation,” she said. “These value levers are typically influenced by an integrated suite of ESG dimensions. For example, this could be looking at carbon emissions, connected with water use and nature, connected with local socio-economic development.”

“Sustainability and ESG are about understanding the inter-relationships between our social, natural and economic environments over the longer term. It cannot be about addressing one topic at a time or responding to the loudest voices.”

This is where ERM’s ‘second-generation’ ESG advice, which is driven by data and opportunities to create value as well as manage risk, is fit for the task.

“We are also finding that, at its heart, the central issue to second-generation ESG performance delivery/improvement for our clients is not just the strategy, but a willingness of organisations to reflect on their core values, how these have driven their traditional approaches and decisions and how they will need to evolve these if they want to achieve a genuine brand and reputation for ESG and achieve impact on the value drivers they have selected,” she added.

Such thinking is proving definitive in ERM’s mining sector mergers and acquisition due diligence.

“We have multiple experiences where clients have asked us to carry out an ESG review of a target portfolio, only to find that there is too great a gap between the target’s ESG asset footprint to align them with the client’s standard – or, that the carbon, water, closure or tailings profile of the target carries a too high-risk profile,” Molyneux said.

This is presenting clients with a dilemma as they want to increase their exposure to certain minerals, but are, in some instances, finding M&A is a too high-risk route. At the same time, the lead time to find and develop their own new assets is longer than they would wish for building market share.

Such a market dynamic opens the door for juniors looking for assets early in their lifecycles, yet it places a high load on the management teams of these companies to think strategically about the ESG profile of the asset they are setting the foundations for to eventually appeal to a potential acquirer.

“This is, in itself, a dilemma because, typically, the cash scarcity at the junior stage leads management teams to focus on the immediate technical challenges, sometimes at the cost of also addressing the priority non-technical challenges,” Bowden said.

Those companies who can take a strategic view on the ESG requirements of the future – rooted in a deep understanding of how to deliver change on the ground – will be best placed in such a market, and ERM says it is on hand to provide the tools to develop such an appropriate approach.

(Lead photo credit: @Talaat Bakri, ERM)

Australian Mines makes history with certified carbon neutral status

Australian Mines says it has become the first mineral resources company to be certified a “Carbon Neutral Organisation” under the Australian Government’s Climate Active program.

Climate Active is the most rigorous and credible carbon neutral certification available in Australia, according to the company, and meeting the “Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard” means Australian Mines’ carbon neutral status is based on best practice, international standards and genuine emissions reductions.

Last month, the Queensland Government offered a conditional financial support package to Australian Mines’ 100% owned Sconi cobalt-nickel-scandium project in the north of the state. When fully developed, Sconi is forecast to be one of the most cost competitive cobalt-producing, nickel operations in the world, Australian Mines says.

The 2018 Sconi bankable feasibility study outlined a three open pit, 2 Mt/y operation that could produce some 8,496 t/y of cobalt sulphate, 53,301 t/y of nickel sulphate and 89 t/y of scandium oxide over the 18-year mine life.

“Australian Mines ability to maintain carbon neutral certification will underpin its position as a sustainable business that incorporates leading environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices,” it said. The company is already an approved member of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), which independently verifies and certifies socially and environmentally responsible mining.

Australian Mines’ Managing Director, Benjamin Bell, said becoming the first Climate Active Carbon Neutral mineral resources company is consistent with Australian Mines’ commitment to leading on ESG.

“It follows the approval in March 2020 of our membership of IRMA and the Queensland Government recognising our commitment to the communities where we operate by granting ‘Prescribed Project’ status to our flagship Sconi project in 2019,” he said.

Australian Mines’ primary focus is to sustainably develop the Sconi project into a globally significant, ethical, reliable source of technology metals to meet the rapid growth in the electric vehicle and energy storage industries, it says.

A key part of sustainably developing Sconi is the company’s carbon neutrality plan designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by implementing energy saving initiatives coupled with offsetting any unavoidable emissions.

“Being certified Carbon Neutral by Climate Active is part of building a sustainable future for Australian Mines, long-term value for our shareholders and a better environment for all our stakeholders,” Bell said. “Members of the Climate Active Network are responsible for over 22 Mt of carbon emissions being offset, which is the equivalent of taking all of Sydney’s cars off the road for two years.”

Anglo takes on responsible mining standards at Unki platinum mine

Anglo American says its Unki platinum mine in Zimbabwe has become the first operation to publicly commit to be independently audited against the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance’s (IRMA) ‘Standard for Responsible Mining’.

IRMA’s Standard for Responsible Mining has been developed over 10 years through a public consultation process with more than 100 different individuals and organisations, including mining companies, customers and the ultimate downstream users of mined products, non-governmental organisations, labour unions, and communities.

An initial self-assessment was completed by Unki ahead of the independent on-site audit and, according to Anglo, the operation performed well against the 26 areas covered by the Standard for Responsible Mining, including working conditions, human rights, community and stakeholder engagement, environmental impact, and planning and financing reclamation and closure.

Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American, said the company had a longstanding commitment as a leader in responsible mining, with numerous examples of its progressive business decisions across many decades. “We are pleased that Unki will be the first mine in the world to publicly commit to a third-party audit to determine its performance against IRMA’s Standard for Responsible Mining,” he said. “As our customers and end consumers who rely on our metals and minerals rightly expect the highest standards of ethical production, we will be putting all our managed mines through such rigorous certification processes by 2025.”

Aimee Boulanger, Executive Director of IRMA, said while IRMA is a voluntary certification system meant to complement strong laws and government oversight, it is also the world’s first and only global definition of what constitutes leading practices in social and environmental responsibility for large-scale mining operations developed through consultation with a range of stakeholders.

“It is the product of 10 years of collaboration between our stakeholders that seeks to emulate for mining what has been done with certification programs in fairtrade agriculture, responsible forestry and sustainable fisheries, as examples,” she said.

“We are extremely pleased to see Anglo American’s Unki mine take the lead and begin the third-party certification process. We hope that this paves the way for others across the industry to make a similar commitment.”

Chris Griffith, CEO of Anglo American Platinum, said the IRMA self-assessment tool had provided the business with a valuable opportunity to measure the performance at Unki mine against international best practice on a wide range of environmental and societal factors. “We are immensely proud of the work the team has been doing at Unki on responsible and sustainable mining, and we look forward to continue leading the way for our other mining operations.”

Unki is the first of many Anglo American operations to be measured against the IRMA standard, in line with the commitment in our Sustainable Mining Plan to have all of our operations assessed against credible responsible mining standards by 2025.

Other Anglo American operations currently completing the IRMA self-assessment stage include the Barro Alto nickel operation in Brazil and the Amandelbult PGM operation in South Africa.

Unki has not yet been independently assessed against the standard nor achieved a level of recognition at the time of this announcement, Anglo said.