De Beers Group CEO Bruce Cleaver.
JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – It is a full year since the De Beers Group set itself a dozen far-reaching 2030 ‘Building Forever’ sustainability goals, which have as their four focus areas leading ethical practices, protecting the natural world, partnering for thriving communities and accelerating equal opportunity.
In partnership with the countries where it operates, De Beers Group has taken on the responsibility of protecting the natural world and improving the lives of people involved with a diamond’s incredible journey.
Building Forever reflects De Beers Group’s commitment to creating a positive lasting impact that will endure well beyond the discovery of its last diamond.
Building Forever involves continuing to work “tirelessly” to advance industry standards, enhance transparency of diamond provenance and improve the livelihoods of artisanal miners as well as partnering to improve health and education outcomes and increase livelihood opportunities to support community resilience and economic diversification in the group’s host countries of Botswana, Canada, Namibia and South Africa.
The 134-year-old De Beers Group – an explorer, miner and marketer of rough diamonds with operations across the diamond value chain, including its retail brands De Beers Jewellers and De Beers Forevermark – is zealously committed to being carbon neutral by 2030.
In the next eight years, replacement of nearly all the fossil electricity it uses is planned. This will be done by building new wind and solar power plants and recovering remaining emissions through nature-based solutions, such as through the company’s recently-announced partnership with innovative start-up Kelp Blue, which aims to sequester carbon dioxide in large seaweed forests off the Namibia coast.
Alongside becoming operationally carbon neutral, it plans to halve its water footprint as well as achieve net positive biodiversity impact.
Together with its joint venture partners, De Beers Group employs more than 20 000 people across the diamond pipeline and is the world’s largest diamond producer by value.
In terms of the first focus area of leading ethical practices, achievements the Anglo American group company chalked up in 2021 included:
- increasing capacity of its innovative diamond traceability blockchain platform, TracrTM, which now has the ability to register up to one-million diamonds a week;
- launching the pilot of De Beers Code of Origin, a consumer-facing trusted source programme;
- bringing the first dedicated GemFairTM parcels of ethically-sourced artisanal and small-scale mined diamonds to market. GemFair is De Beers Group’s initiative to support the formalisation of the artisanal and small-scale sector; and
- implementing a land reclamation programme in Sierra Leone to bring old artisanal mine sites back to productive farming use, supporting livelihoods and food security for local communities.
Under protecting the natural world, 2021 highlights were:
- reducing energy intensity by 11%;
- progressing a project to build a 60 MW solar farm at its Venetia mine in Limpopo;
- launching Okavango Eternal, a five-year partnership with National Geographic to help protect the critical source waters of the Okavango Delta in Southern Africa;
- continuing to manage biodiversity and protecting threatened species across the Diamond Route’s 500 000 ha of protected Southern African land; and
- completing a strategy for addressing Scope 3 emissions in its global supply chain.
Achievements under partnering for thriving communities included:
- supporting more than 2 600 jobs through enterprise development initiatives in Southern Africa and supporting more than 18 000 students at 25 schools in South Africa;
- commencing delivery of the partnership with National Geographic, which includes commitments to support the development of livelihood opportunities for 10 000 people across Africa’s Okavango basin and help ensure water and food security for more than one-million people;
- pledging $6.8-million to support vaccine procurement and rollout in host countries, including establishing vaccination clinics at the group’s operations for employees and community members; and
- investing $35-million in social investment initiatives.
Accelerating equal opportunity highlights listed were:
- announcing an additional $3-million investment to extend the Accelerating Women Owned Micro-Enterprises programme in Southern Africa, which is focused on supporting women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, and more than 1 800 entrepreneurs have been supported to date;
- engaging 1 500 girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Southern Africa in partnership with the women in engineering WomEng programme and providing 21 scholarships to women studying STEM at university in Canada, in partnership with United Nations Women and Scholarships Canada;
- awarding 12 young jewellery designers in host countries of Botswana, Canada, Namibia and South Africa training opportunities through the company’s Shining Light Awards design talent competition; and
- launching the #BlackIsBrilliant campaign in partnership with RAD Red Carpet Advocacy, bringing together black jewellery designers with top celebrity stylists.
Against that background, Mining Weekly put these questions to De Beers Group CEO Bruce Cleaver. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)
Mining Weekly: Why do you regard the achievement of these ambitious 2030 Building Forever goals as being so important?
Cleaver: For us, the whole point of our Building Forever strategy, and I agree it’s an ambitious strategy, and sustainability goals, is really driven by our desire for De Beers to leave a positive sustainable legacy, long beyond diamond mines. As you and I've discussed before, diamonds are forever but unfortunately diamond mines probably aren't forever, in that eventually, although luckily not anytime soon, our mines will eventually reach the end of their lives, and it's really important that we start thinking now about how we create a positive and sustainable legacy for all of our stakeholders – particularly the communities who live and work around the mines – that lasts, essentially, forever, and that's why this concept of Building Forever is so important to us as the De Beers Group, and the language we use around Building Forever is so important. I think it was always important for us, but I think the events of the last few years have really accelerated for me the need for us to do this better and quicker, and there are a number of reasons why I think it's so important to do this by 2030. The first one is, of course, it's very aligned with the UN's Decade of Action request, which is to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the end of the 2020s. They’re expecting the world to have got there, so we're very aligned with that. Secondly, of course, because we sell such an incredible product, which is almost always sold to end consumers in the form of set diamond jewellery, it is a discretionary product, a luxury product. Therefore the consumers who buy it, rightly I think, ask us questions about sustainability, as they should. That's been a trend we've seen accelerating over the last couple of years – more of these relevant questions from consumers. As I said earlier, given that a diamond is a discretionary purchase, it's really important to us that we can answer these questions from consumers and meet their social aspirations in a way that makes them proud to buy a diamond from De Beers. If you add all of those up, that's why we are so ambitious about getting this done by 2030. It's a big ask and our focus is on a number of core areas. There are four principal pillars that the goals sit under and I'm pleased to say, we've got the whole organisation really energised behind and excited by our ambitions. It's actually a great motivational tool when we go out and recruit people because people want to be part of an organisation that's on such an exciting journey. A bit of a long answer to your question, but it's a combination of what consumers want, the way the world is changing and our desire as a business to do even better.
Under those four pillars, what are the key highlights since the announcement of the 2030 sustainability goals?
We have four particular pillars and each of our 12 goals sit under one of these pillars. Leading ethical practices is one of the pillars and we've been a really big proponent and leader for almost two decades in encouraging everybody in the diamond value chain, not just De Beers, to follow ethical practices. Thriving communities is another pillar and it's really important for us that our host communities around the mines thrive, today and tomorrow. Our third pillar is protecting the natural world. Natural diamonds are such an incredible treasure of nature. It is so important for us that we protect the natural world around which we mine. And finally, accelerating equal opportunity is our fourth pillar. The diamond industry has done really well in the last couple of years to accelerate equal opportunity, but there's a long way to go still, and so we've looked at each of those platforms that I've spoken about and have set very specific goals and very specific actions and activities behind them. If I take on, for example, protecting the natural world, we've done the most phenomenal work with partners like National Geographic in order to try and protect the headwaters of the Okavango Delta as they arise in Angola. We know that with the way things are going on, there will be no water in the delta in some years, and that'll be a terrible outcome for the world. So we’re working very closely with National Geographic on that in order to try and build programmes that allow us to make that water sustainable. This includes working with farmers in Angola to create different kinds of jobs so that they don't use as much water, as well as working with communities across Angola. Under leading ethical practices, as a result of the desire of consumers to know more about where their diamond comes from, and the good that diamond has done, we've rapidly accelerated our traceability programme TracrTM, which is our industry-leading blockchain programme. By the end of the year, we plan to have about 60% of all our goods on it. So the consumer will know not only where that diamond came from – and they should ask those kind of questions – but also the good that it's done along the way.
We also do a tremendous amount of work in areas like advancing equal opportunity.
We've got a really big ambition to support 10 000 women entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. We’ve also got a goal to support 10 000 women and girl STEM learners in Africa and in Canada. We do all kinds of work on each of these goals, and what is really good about it – and we’re in a different space to where we were, let's say two, three years ago – is, for me, Building Forever has become core business at De Beers. It's in the business plan. It's not something you do on the side, like we might have done a few years ago. We have goals to meet, we have roadmaps, we have targets, we have subject matter experts looking after each of these 12 goals. So I feel we're in a tremendous position now to deliver a really interesting sustainability future because we've set it up properly as part of the business, including appointing people with responsibilities to get it done and having monitoring and programmes in place, so I think it's a great and exciting place for us to be.
Beyond your Building Forever sustainability commitments, what contributions are ongoing to your host countries?
If you take a step back, it's worth just illustrating this: in the countries in which we operate, in the course of 2021, our businesses paid total returns of $4.7-billion to our host countries, with 97% of the taxes and royalties we paid going to our host governments in Africa. I think sometimes people forget that even through a pandemic, and 2020 was a very difficult year for us while 2021 was better, we make very significant contributions to the countries in which we operate at a fiscal level, and those countries have, generally speaking, been very good and wise about investing their diamond revenues. To just digress for a minute but to give you a great example. When we found what is now Orapa mine in Botswana in the late 1960s, there were three miles of tarred road in Botswana; there are now 4 000 miles of tarred roads in Botswana, and that has largely been done on the back of the government wisely investing diamond revenues. So, we're very proud of the role we played there, but we have very strong goals in relation to how we help communities around the mines. We have a strong programme involving looking to create four jobs off the mine for every one job we have on the mine, and so we have a whole series of programmes to support this. It’s really important that we get communities into STEM subjects so that we are able to help them reskill for the transition into what the future of work is, so we spend a great deal of time and effort and money there. We did tremendous work throughout the countries in which we operate to provide support during Covid, including providing significant investments towards Covid relief. We've done a great deal of work with our local governments in sourcing vaccinations, and paying for them in certain circumstances, and in sourcing polymerase chain reaction machines and paying for them, as well as rolling out a great deal of Covid relief. A lot of what we've done throughout Covid and beyond is very much around this concept of supporting thriving communities.
What should, in your view, be the main takeaway from this interview?
To me the main takeaway is that Building Forever, or sustainability, is core business and, in my view, should be something that all businesses inculcate into the business. What I mean by that is, as I said earlier, we used to have sustainability on the side. Today we still have dedicated sustainability experts, but beyond this, I think one of the key reasons we’re making progress is because we've got every single person in the business to believe that they’re a sustainability ambassador. So we don't only ask the team of sustainability experts to be solely responsible for delivering our ambitious commitments, we ask every single person in the organisation to think, on a daily basis, about what can we do as an organisation to improve sustainability, whether that's greenhouse gas emission reduction, whether that's using less water. We've got a tremendous ambition here to be carbon neutral by 2030. We’ve got some powerful tools to assist us in achieving this, such as wind, particularly in places like Namibia, and sun in places like Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. So to me, the way to do this is to make a core business, make every single man and woman in your organisation believe in it, and I think that it's part of their journey to help us deliver it, not leave it to a team of specialists experts only. That, I think, for De Beers has been a big step change.