The Way Forward on Sustainable Mining in Canada: Environment, Workforce Safety & Communities
Head of Environment and Permitting
Dominion Diamond Mines
Claudine Lee is Head of Environment and Permitting at Dominion Diamond Mines. She is a professional geologist with over 20 years of experience working in northern Canada. Ms. Lee began her career as a student working on diamond exploration programs. She joined the Ekati Diamond Mine in 2011 as the Advisor–Operations and was promoted to Superintendent–Environment Operations in 2012, and to Head of Environment and Communities in 2015.
Dominion Diamond Mines is a Canadian diamond mining company. It operates the Ekati Diamond Mine and owns 40% of the Diavik Diamond Mine, both of which are 200 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It supplies rough diamonds to the global market through its sorting and selling operations in Canada, Belgium and India.
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1- A sustainable mine must have an overarching strategy that considers the environment, creates safe working conditions and partners with local organizations to support the surrounding communities and build economic capacity.
2- Canada’s regulations and legislation, and Canadian mining companies’ dedication to focusing on sustainability issues, sets Canada apart on the global mining stage.
3- To instill concrete sustainability changes in a mine, management must demonstrate an openness to soliciting and supporting ideas from the entire staff. The closer employees are to the cause, the faster changes are implemented.
The role of academia is to ensure there is a clear vision and connection between industry best practices and school curriculums. Academia should include a focus on real components that mining companies integrate into their practices, such as industry guiding values, overarching business strategies and common business objectives. Therefore, partnerships between academia and mining companies continue to be necessary.
What are the biggest environmental challenges and impacts from mining operations? How would you define a “sustainable mine”?
Mining involves disturbing the earth, and some environmental impacts are expected. It’s particularly difficult to operate mine sites in northern Canada. Challenges that exist there, such as a shortage of infrastructure and power sources, as well as the remoteness and extreme climate, make it harder to transition to sustainable solutions. For example, we still rely on diesel as the main source of fuel, as alternatives do not perform well in cold weather, and depend on planes to transport many of our supplies.
That doesn’t mean that natural resources cannot be developed successfully and sustainably. There are steps that can be taken to reduce the environmental footprint of a mine and make it a sustainable mine. First, to realize this, we need to consider the entire life cycle of a mining operation, from supply chain management down to the marketing component.
A sustainable mine must reduce its overall environmental footprint, create safe working conditions, and partner with local organizations to support the development of community projects.Natural resources cannot be separated from the communities that live around them; therefore, mining operations should always work for their benefit and provide training and education to develop skills that are transferable to other positions. Hence, to attain a sustainable mine, companies must have a balanced approach between the environment, workforce safety conditions and the communities.
From a global perspective, how does Canada rank in terms of its approach to environmental protection in its mining operations?
Canada takes its environmental protection seriously and we see that in our legislation and regulations. Canadian mining companies have focused on sustainability issues specific to our industry, and this has made climate change part of our sustainability agenda. The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) has established the Towards Sustainable Mining program, which many Canadian mining companies, including Dominion, commit to. It helps guide us in the way we operate and report to our stakeholders. That dedication has set us up as a global leader for sustainable mining.
We also have a specific regulatory framework in the North, which is a co-management framework. It allows for decisions about the development and use of land to be made by Northerners. These components are important and help Canada shine in terms of how we approach mining sustainability.
Dominion Diamond Mines won Towards Sustainable Mining’s Environmental Excellence Award for its waste management program at the Ekati Diamond Mine. How was Dominion able to navigate one of the most significant challenges in mining and transform the way it manages waste on sites? What can other mining companies learn from this approach?
Our waste management program at the Ekati Diamond Mine stands out for two reasons: our Sustainable Development Policy provides clear direction for waste management, and there is a strong conviction from the entire staff to instill social and environmental responsibility. Under our Sustainable Development Policy, we set a goal of improving our waste management and taking steps toward achieving that.
The key to our success was having the dedication of our entire team. From management to individual employees, we set up face-to-face meetings with our sustainability team to encourage sharing and supporting great ideas. Our sustainability team then came back with several strategic recommendations, including the installation of an industrial composter to reduce the amount of waste that was going to the incinerator. Some recommendations put forward were as simple as placing recycling bins in convenient locations for staff to put their waste away. Our team did a great job at implementing the new sustainability steps because they were involved in setting the standards and this resonated with the Towards Sustainable Mining Excellence Award. Today, over half of the waste generated at the Ekati mine is composted.
“Mining companies that want to prioritize sustainability need to understand that it is crucial to signal both internally and to their entire stakeholder group that sustainability is of prime importance.“
Mining companies that want to prioritize sustainability need to understand that it is crucial to signal both internally and to their entire stakeholder group that sustainability is of prime importance.When you foster a collaborative energy among colleagues and stakeholders, your sustainability strategy will move faster, be more innovative, and produce even greater designs throughout the process. For example, being the first northern mine to implement a composting system had multiple beneficial outcomes. This includes using less fuel for the incinerator and correspondingly fewer greenhouse gas emissions. We have shared our best practices and lessons learned with other northern mines and communities interested in making that kind of change.
How can Canada best support the growth and positioning of our diamond mining sector and its products? What role does sustainable mining play in this respect?
Diamonds are a luxury product. Today’s consumer, more than ever before, cares deeply about the origin of their luxury purchases. In addition, consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental and social impacts of mining, which can influence their purchasing decisions. In this context, it is essential that Canada and its diamond producers ensure that consumers are informed both about the existence of Canadian diamonds, and the safeguards in place to ensure responsible and ethical mining practices.
Dominion Diamond Mines works hard to inform the public of the diamond mining industry generally, and diamond mining in Canada in particular. One of the ways that we do so is through the Diamond Producers Association (DPA), of which Dominion is a founding member. The DPA recognizes the importance of transparency in the mining industry and to that end retained Trucost, a leading environmental data and risk analysis firm, to study the industry. This study, published as the Total Clarity Report, outlines environmental and socioeconomic impacts as key considerations in large-scale diamond mining, and provides clarity and comfort to consumers who are looking to understand the social and environmental impacts of their diamond purchases.
In addition to our work with the DPA, Dominion has sought to build trust with our consumers by increasing the transparency of our business. In our ongoing regulatory reporting, Dominion seeks to provide clear and transparent information demonstrating compliance with Canada’s rigorous environmental laws. In addition, we publish an annual socio-economic report that highlights the company’s performance on key factors, including local northern and Indigenous employment, training and other business spend.
“It is important for Canada to continue to highlight these factors, namely: Canada has a rigorous regulatory regime which aims to minimize the environmental and societal impacts of mining; communities in Canada benefit from diamond mining; and diamonds from Canada are responsibly and ethically sourced.“
In addition to our reporting, we aim to highlight Canadian sourced diamonds through our Canadamark brand. Diamonds marketed under the Canadamark program are tracked from their origin in a Canadian mine through the sorting, cutting, polishing and setting processes to the final point of sale in jewellery stores. We are proud to produce Canadian diamonds which are sourced with respect for both the natural environment and the surrounding communities in which we work. We believe that this work has made a huge difference in providing and highlighting responsibly sourced Canadian diamonds to consumers both domestically and abroad.
It is important for Canada to continue to highlight these factors, namely: Canada has a rigorous regulatory regime which aims to minimize the environmental and societal impacts of mining; communities in Canada benefit from diamond mining; and diamonds from Canada are responsibly and ethically sourced.
What is the role of academia in preparing the next generation of mining industry leaders with the awareness and aptitude to contribute to Canada’s global leadership in sustainable mining?
The role of academia is to ensure there is a clear vision and connection between industry best practices and school curriculums. Academia should include a focus on real components that mining companies integrate into their practices, such as industry guiding values, overarching business strategies and common business objectives.Therefore, partnerships between academia and mining companies continue to be necessary.
Fortunately, academia has always been a strong partner in the mining industry. I am a product of a strong collaboration between the two. As I was completing my master’s degree, I was already starting my career in mining through partnerships in industry so I could experience what it was like to work in a mining setting and think about the big picture. When I completed my masters, I had encountered a variety of real scenarios and challenges the mining industry faces every day, making it easier to understand the overall landscape.
“The role of academia is to ensure there is a clear vision and connection between industry best practices and school curriculums. Academia should include a focus on real components that mining companies integrate into their practices, such as industry guiding values, overarching business strategies and common business objectives.“
At Dominion, we have been supportive of scholarships in education. We have an Ekati Plus Scholarship program that provides scholarships to Northerners. Every year, we hire summer students in a number of departments, both at the mine site and in our corporate offices. We believe that having partnerships with academia on the research side is important, but we also encourage people to follow through with multiple other areas of study, including environment, sustainability, and supply and human resources management. All these components play a crucial role in the northern mining industry.
Our academic partners have helped expand our boundaries of knowledge, especially in the northern setting where we are continually building upon our knowledge of the unique northern environment..We have worked with numerous academic partners over the years to solve several environmental questions. There are many talented people working on interesting challenges and cooperation is key.
Part of the Future of Mining Series presented by