Recognising 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, according to SRK Consulting principal consultant and social scientist Lisl Pullinger.
“A key challenge in driving effective social transitioning during mine closure is that some mines continue to adopt outdated practices – seeing communities as beneficiaries of the mine’s generosity,” said Pullinger.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 recognise 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.”