Partnerships Will Define the Future of Canada’s Mining Industry
Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability
Brent Bergeron was appointed Goldcorp’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability in January 2015. He leads the development and implementation of Goldcorp’s corporate affairs and sustainability programs, including government relations, environmental stewardship, community relations, corporate social responsibility, corporate and external communications, reclamation, security and country and political risk. Brent joined Goldcorp in November 2010 as Vice President, Corporate Affairs.
Goldcorp is a Canadian gold producer engaged in the acquisition, exploration, development and operation of gold properties in Canada, the US, Mexico, and Central and South America. Its principal products are gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc. The Vancouver-based company was founded in 1994.
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1- Canada’s mining industry is competitive on the world stage not just because of its high quality natural resources, but also due to its unique technology and business practices – which can be exported.
2- A multi-stakeholder approach to mining innovation is essential. Innovation must create efficient and sustainable companies, contribute to the overall goals and objectives of stakeholders, contribute to the social acceptability of the mining industry and its companies, and contribute to the overall safety of workers and the communities mining companies operate in.
3- The distance between mining companies and their end users is shrinking, thus bringing in accountability and transparency in terms of companies’ efficiency, innovation and sustainability.
The Canadian mining industry needs to ensure that it is partnering with other key stakeholders to sustainably develop Canada’s excellent endowment of natural resources.
How does the mining industry fit into Canada’s transition to an economy centered on more sustainable cleaner growth?
Canada cannot consider itself to be completely dependent on natural resources even though we are endowed with a considerable amount of them. We need to leverage those resources for our economic development in an equitable and sustainable manner. Partnership between the different stakeholders in the natural resources economy will define what sustainable development looks like in the Canadian context.
Taking resources out of the ground does have an effect that could be considered by some to be negative. If you are digging a giant hole in the ground, that is going to have an impact on people moving forward, even after the mine site is closed. As an industry and as a company, Goldcorp is trying to change that proposition into a positive and sustainable one. We will only be able to do that if we partner with the different stakeholders that are being affected around our mine sites.
In this context, there are two types of community development opportunities mining companies can build on: social and technical. Social opportunities include capacity building for the overall development of the area, not just for our mining operations. Secondly, we can do technical things such as leaving the mine in a condition that can be used positively by the local community. For example, one of our mines is in the middle of the town of Timmins, Ontario. We are exploiting the Hollinger pit there, which was an old and abandoned pit that we inherited through the purchase of another company. Our plan is to mine this pit, clean it up and collaborate with the people of Timmins to build a giant lake and park inside the town.
How is the mining sector dealing with sustainability challenges around water and electricity use?
Let us talk about water first. There are incredible cost savings we can enjoy if we design a mine more efficiently in terms of the distances between processes. In some countries, it is very difficult to get a project permitted if you are going to be using ground water from the area you are operating in. Chile is a very good example of this, where we have to consider installing desalination plants. But desalination plants are naturally close to the coast whereas mining projects may be up in the mountains. So, moving water from sea level all the way up to the mountain can be quite costly. Therefore, instead of that line of thought, we are analyzing water usage at the site and trying to recycle a lot more water or even reduce the amount of water used. There are very interesting ideas out there for taking water out of the process of mining entirely.
In terms of electrification, I see a lot of challenges. We do not see the price of electricity, for example, in the Province of Ontario, going down any time soon. On the contrary, it is most likely going to go up. If the price of electricity at your mine site is a large cost, then we have to find a way of reducing usage. But if we do it in a very smart way, we can have secondary effects that were probably not being measured earlier. For example, if we reduce diesel particulates underground, we create a safer working environment for workers. We have actually surveyed our workers at the Borden mine – which will be the first mine in Canada that is completely electric underground – and 90% of them would not want to go back to a traditional underground mine that had diesel. A lower number of diesel particulates also reduces our ventilation costs.
Overall, we are seeing a shortening of the distance between mining companies and our end customers or users. End users want to know where the gold or product is coming from, they want to know how efficient we are in terms of the overall production, they want to know how innovation comes into the process, and they want to know how sustainable we are. We need to really push upon our industry to be able to answer those questions.
Where in the Canadian mining industry do you see opportunities to export?
Besides mining high-quality natural resources, the Canadian mining industry is quite competitive when it comes to its business practices and technology – and these can be exported. For instance, Goldcorp replicates Canadian standards at its international sites as well. We also share a lot of examples of new innovative ways of doing business. For example, our Borden mine will be the first mine in Canada that is completely electric underground. We are learning a lot in terms of developing that new technology and process, and will try to export it across our sites. The great thing about this is that it is not just helping us from a competitive advantage standpoint, but it is also aligning our objectives with those of our stakeholders. Governments want to see significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Well, we are doing that here with this mine; we are proving that an all-electric underground mine can actually be built.
What should innovation in the mining industry look like?
We need to ensure that the innovation is actually creating efficient and sustainable companies as opposed to just making one process more efficient. If I am just doing the same things that I have been doing faster, then that is not sustainable. We must make sure that innovation is leading to an actual step change in the way we are doing business.
Secondly, innovation has to be set up in a way that it actually contributes to the overall goals and objectives of stakeholders. Now, these can be communities, government or company supply chains. Goldcorp is partnering with our supply chain and encouraging them to develop new technology to meet our demands.
“We need to ensure that the innovation is actually creating efficient and sustainable companies as opposed to just making one process more efficient, [and] that innovation is leading to an actual step change in the way we are doing business.”
Moreover, innovation needs to contribute to the social acceptability of our industry and our company, because it helps us to strike our agreements with communities. In Canada, our work with the First Nations community is extremely important. We want to demonstrate that we have the ability to be a progressive company that is willing and able to answer a lot of the concerns that they may have.
Finally, innovation will only be sustainable if it contributes to the overall safety of our workers and communities.
What can be done to better support mining start-ups that are trying to disrupt and improve the industry?
One of the reasons we started the #DisruptMining challenge was to bring the small companies closer to the large ones. It is not just about Goldcorp; we have guests from tech and other sectors as well. So, all the other companies are there to see what these smaller companies with great ideas are coming up with. The challenge aims to give them an opportunity to get attention from larger companies.
I also want to highlight the importance of partnerships between the different stakeholders in the mining sector. Government participation is crucial to the success of mining innovation, so we want to ensure that government officials are there to witness the live finale event, understand our progress and incentivize industry to move in a certain direction. We need the government’s help in commercializing Canadian-grown mining solutions, and we will do our part as an industry to identify and invest in great ideas. We have mine sites across Canada, so we can bring test these ideas as a model and prove the concept on site. But we need to ensure that everybody is on board, because sometimes, even regulations need to be changed to accommodate new types of innovative ideas.