August 2008

Towards Sustainable Mining

An important, effective and evolving tool for the Canadian mining industry

By G. Peeling and P. Stothart


The TSM initiative is an important vehicle through which companies can respond to social-environmental risks and challenges.

Mining firms in Canada and internationally face a range of challenges in the social-environmental sphere. Activities associated with exploring for and extracting minerals, and processing them into useable products, all impact upon the environment by disturbing land and generating waste. They also require significant consultation with governments, aboriginal groups and other affected parties.

The Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) is an important vehicle through which companies can respond to these risks and challenges. TSM, when formally launched in 2004, represented the culmination of several years of research and consultation. This research led MAC to construct an initiative that was highly dependent on partnership with stakeholders for its success and that draws, in its governance, upon the formal participation of environmental and social groups, aboriginal organizations and businesses. Adherence to TSM’s principles and disciplines is a condition of membership in MAC.

From the outset, MAC’s members identified the need for performance indicators to provide a consistent framework for evaluating and reporting on industry performance against the TSM guiding principles. Indicators and protocols were therefore developed to guide performance in four critically important areas — tailings management, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
management, external outreach and crisis management planning. Companies are judged and ranked from one (beginner) to five (best in class) on a broad range of measures in these areas.

In addition to annual reporting on these indicators, external verification of performance results by outside professional verifiers began in 2007. This step affirms our members’ commitment to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement. It also makes MAC the first mining association in the world to respond to the expectations of its communities of interest, by implementing external verification in a consistent way across its membership.

Beyond the four performance areas, TSM has more recently sought the input of its “community of interest” advisory panel, to help set new priorities and to develop two new performance areas relating to aboriginal relations and biodiversity. Multi-stakeholder workshops and other sources of input have helped MAC develop draft policy frameworks for each area — these will progress over the coming months.

In 2005, MAC and the TSM initiative won the Globe Foundation’s Award for Environmental Excellence. TSM has been broadened and strengthened during the ensuing years — such as through the verification system and the development of new protocols and indicators. As well, the existing indicators continue to be refined and updated. For example, we are presently developing an improved guidance document and workshops on energy and greenhouse gas management to help companies improve their TSM reporting and progress in this important and very topical area.

Towards Sustainable Mining will evolve in the coming years. It will continue to exchange information with organizations, such as the International Council on Mining and Metals and others, as they develop processes to advance their member performance in environmental and social areas. TSM has been a world-leading initiative since its formation and will continue to aim for this leadership position in the years to come.

Gordon Peeling is president and CEO and Paul Stothart is vice president, economic affairs of MAC.

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