The importance of sustainability in mining operations

16 September 2019 (Last Updated November 21st, 2019 10:10)

As mining companies around the world grapple with cost-reduction schemes and improving site safety, there are a range of key themes emerging that look set to have a wide-reaching impact on the success of operations.

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The importance of sustainability in mining operations
The mining industry holds a number of strengths that mean it can not only follow sustainability guidelines, but play an active part in leading forces for change. Credit: Shane McLendon on Unsplash.

As mining companies around the world grapple with cost-reduction schemes and improving site safety, there are a range of key themes emerging that look set to have a wide-reaching impact on the success of operations.

With the environment increasingly in the spotlight, the growth of mining firms will be largely decided by how they adapt to the pressures of sustainability. While it may seem contradictory, the mining industry actually holds the power to take a key role in creating a more sustainable planet.

As a supplier of materials used in a wide range of products and with operations on almost every continent, few other industries have such comparable impact. This means mine operators are well adapted to challenging environmental and energy-related projects, as well as familiar with the long-term perspective that environmental change requires. It’s also well-versed in the importance of recycling, with existing measures already in place to re-use as much materials as possible on-site.

In fact, the industry holds a number of strengths that mean mining can not only follow sustainability guidelines, but play an active part in leading positive forces for change.

Starting from the top

According to Tom Melbye, a Normet senior advisor and member of the board of directors: “There is a big push in the mining industry to find more sustainable solutions, particularly in terms of equipment or methods.

“But in every company, you must start from the top. If senior management are really tough and focused on sustainability, it is easier to pass the message down to operator level and ensure everyone understands what is required and why it is important.”

In addition to working closely with personnel at all levels, management must also learn to more effectively collaborate with their respective governments. By working in partnership, mine operators are also likely to see a reduction in costly disputes with local municipalities and communities, which are believed to delay or suspend approximately $25bn worth of projects worldwide.

“There is a big push in the mining industry to find more sustainable solutions, particularly in terms of equipment or method.”

Essentially, for modern mining organisations to continue operating, it is necessary to listen to social, environmental and economic sustainability guidance while viewing environmental practices as a central component of all planning and development.

According to Melbye, equipment selection should play a key role in these sustainable practices: “The world is committed to a CO2 reduction. Here at Normet, we are very focused on that too, whether that’s with support systems or site equipment. For example, we are offering a range of battery driven equipment with no diesel fumes.

“Another issue that is particularly important for sustainability is to reduce the rebound in the spraying of concrete. With ordinary equipment, rebound this can be up to 30-40%, but with Normet equipment and the right operators, you can get this level below 10%.

“This leads to a big improvement in the working environment and the amount of dust creation, as well as overall productivity. Plus, by reducing rebound, operators are able to use a lot less material, or using the same amount of material and covering a bigger area. All of this makes the process more sustainable.”

Financial gains

In addition to a reduced environmental impact, mining firms can find the unexpected benefit of financial gains from improved sustainability. Though green policies can seem costly, they actually help to give a company a competitive edge. Plus the ability to recycle and reduce waste has clear links to an improved bottom line.

“The mining industry is starting to take sustainability seriously, realising that if they don’t act on it, they won’t survive,” says Melbye. “After all, sustainability is increasingly connected to productivity, which is in turn linked to economics and profitability.  So there are clear financial gains to be had from sustainability.”

Ultimately, for mining companies to survive, sustainable practices should be at the heart of operations. Many firms are beginning to understand that in order to maintain economic viability, it must take an environmentally and socially responsible approach at all levels of the operation.

Normet are world experts in essential underground equipment and services. For more information on how Normet can improve your sustainability practices, visit www.normet.com.

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