Common wisdom tells us that the only constant in our lives is change. The mineral industry’s attention to environmental protection and social values is the perfect example. Doug Horswill, Teck Cominco’s senior VP of environment and corporate affairs, spelled it out for his audience at the CIM Student Night on Feb. 25 in Vancouver.
Horswill’s first mining job over 30 years ago was not exactly an eye-opener. "At the end of my first shift I went down to the river and I looked down to see this great grey plume drifting out into the blue waters, and I thought, ‘Isn’t that an interesting pattern? Look at how it changes and moves with the current.’ I had no idea then, but those were the tailings being discharged directly into the river," he admitted.
How far the mining industry has come in the last two decades alone. Our enlightened attitude is due to the fact that social values are now considered more important than economic values, Horswill believes. "The biggest change in my era has been social changeenvironmental consciousness, the rise of aboriginal rights, the rights of indigenous people. in short, the need to fully account for the social impacts of our developments."
Is this a good thing for mining? Yes and no. An individual would say No if that person were not willing to change. The increased permitting and environmental requirements for mineral development seem only to add costs to a project, never reduce them. But if an individual is willing to take up the challenge of growing social awareness, he or she must answer Yes to this question. The alternative to responsible development is the disappearance of the mineral industry.
Every person in the industry has a part to play in respecting changing values. Horswill says, "There is only your own view of the right thing to do, your ethics and your perspectives as well as those of other members of your organization.
"Years go, we could take for granted our ‘social licence to operate’. Today we must earn it. In the future it may be even harder to earn."
For students and as a refresher for operators, everyone should review Horswill’s complete presentation. It is posted at www.teckcominco.com.