March/April 2011

Inspiring confidence in CSR

Seven questions lead to successful community engagement in the Mt. Milligan project

By Laureen Whyte

Mt. Milligan Sustainability Committee meeting in Prince George in 2009 | Photo courtesy of Terrance Metals

On November 2, 2010, Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced that Mt. Milligan, Thompson Creek Metals Company’s copper-gold deposit near Fort St James, had been given the final go-ahead, making it the first new major greenfield mine in British Columbia since the late nineties. The project’s approval process was smoother than most, given the relatively small footprint due to existing road and power infrastructure, a pledge to avoid discharging surface water to nearby streams, and a site already decimated by the pine beetle infestation.

But a big part of the project’s success stems from the work Terrane Metals undertook to engage with local community stakeholders, prior to its acquisition by Thompson Creek. It was an approach enabled by its adoption of the rigorous “Seven Questions to Sustainability” framework. Stakeholders’ early and significant involvement in the approval process helped not only to ensure that local concerns were met, but also that regulators faced much less political risk than usual.

A textbook case

Terrane Metals’ approach to getting the Mt. Milligan project approved is textbook Seven Questions. The Seven Questions to Sustainability framework was developed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development North America project in 2002 to help international mining companies align their sustainable development goals with those of stakeholders.

Seven Questions assesses a project’s commitment to sustainability at each phase of the mining cycle based on deep engagement and partnership with stakeholders. The tool guides companies through the process of developing a sustainability plan, taking into account the life cycle of a mine and all community and ecosystem factors affected by the project’s reach. Using interrogative goal statements rather than a prescriptive set of rules, the framework also clarifies the economic, environmental, social and cultural costs, benefits and risks of putting sustainability concepts into practice, enabling both the company and the community to build a concise sequence of actions and accountabilities.

For each of the Seven Questions and its subsets, an “ideal answer” provides the basis for objectives, from which indicators are identified and metrics developed. As the discussion becomes more detail-oriented, site-specific plans can be developed for achieving the objectives, including compromises on how the goals will be prioritized and implemented.

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