Sustainable Social Transitioning at Mine Closure Starts with Paradigm Shift
According to SRK Consulting principal consultant and social scientist, Lisl Pullinger, recognizing the assets and opportunities inherent in mine communities throughout the life of mine is one of the first steps towards more sustainable social transitioning after mine closure.
Pullinger, has more than 20 years of experience working on stakeholder communication and community development projects. Her experience in working with host community and mining executives places her in a unique position to provide advisory services regarding sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance.
“A key challenge in driving effective social transitioning during mine closure is that some mines continue to adopt outdated practices – seeing communities as beneficiaries of the mine’s generosity,” said Pullinger. “A more constructive paradigm is to recognize the community assets that already exist, and leverage these toward greater economic resilience. This can significantly improve community self-reliance after a mine’s life comes to an end.”
Environmental liabilities tend to be the main focus of mine closure, she said, but the self-sustainability of mine communities after closure is increasingly on the radar of mining companies. The challenge is that boardroom statements are often not matched by on-the-ground expertise, responsibility and financial commitment during the entire mine life-cycle.
“Effective social transitioning focuses on early and ongoing support for the future self-sustainability of mining communities,” she said. “This includes collaborating with communities to build on their existing human, social, infrastructural, and financial assets – to create livelihood resilience when the mine closes its doors.”
Ideally, this process begins in the mine’s concept stage, where the preliminary economic assessment incorporates an appropriate budget for the range of costs required by self-sustainable initiatives throughout the life of mine to support social transitioning at closure. This budget would include not just retrenchment packages and re-skilling of employees, but investment from day one in long-term self-sustainable community projects to grow and diversify the local economy.
“It is therefore vital for mines to integrate their regulatory social development initiatives and corporate social investment (CSI) focus with their training initiatives and their procurement policy,” she said. “This ensures that all resources are channelled effectively towards the same end-result: greater self-sustainability of mining communities.”
A practical intervention for mines is a community self-sustainability assessment, to select and guide the most valuable interventions aimed at social transitioning. Such tools are being developed and refined as the skills base evolves among sustainability practitioners. She emphasised the importance of developing good practice in the field of social transitioning, as this impacts directly on the mining sector’s social licence to operate.
“For the second year running, consultants Ernst and Young (EY) have shown that mining companies put social licence to operate as the number one risk in the sector,” said Pullinger. “Addressing this risk is going to require considerable investment of resources to continue developing the industry’s skills, tools and capacity to foster sustainable community development around mines.”
SRK is an independent, global network of consulting practices in over 45 countries on six continents. In Canada, the company has offices in Yellowknife, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto, and Sudbury. Its experienced engineers and scientists work with clients in multi-disciplinary teams to deliver integrated, sustainable solutions across a range of sectors – mining, water, environment, infrastructure and energy. For further information please visit https://www.srk.com/en/about-us-overview
About the Author
Lisl is a Principal Consultant and Social Scientist at SRK Consulting (SA) with over twenty years’ experience in Africa in the following fields: social development policy and strategy; stakeholder engagement; neuro-based capacity building; relocation and economic displacement; enterprise and supplier development; digital transformation and inclusion; climate change resilience; and asset-based community development. She holds a Master’s degree in Communication Pathology from the University of Pretoria and is a certified member of the International Association of Public Participation.