November 2013

A practised first impression

Introducing CSR into geology and engineering programs would benefit industry

By Correy Baldwin

In May 2003, Meridian Gold abandoned its Esquel gold project in southern Argentina, faced with overwhelming opposition from the local community. Esquel residents argued the company had disregarded their concerns from the very beginning and demanded an end to development. Having lost its social licence, Meridian conceded.

“That was a $381-million mistake and it was completely avoidable,” said Jan Boon, a scientist emeritus with Natural Resources Canada and a member of the executive committee for the Centre for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility.

While companies tend to employ community engagement professionals to communicate with local communities, problems can begin early. For instance, the first impressions created by geologists and engineers, often the first employees to encounter locals, can have lasting effects on the success or failure of any future project in the area.

“We call them the ambassadors of the mining industry because whatever they do is followed by the rest of the mining cycle, and they can leave a positive legacy or a negative legacy,” said Bernarda Elizalde, co-founder of Responsible Mineral Development. “They set the tone for what will happen in the future. If they do things wrong, they can damage the relationship with communities, but if they do things right, they can help the company gain their social licence to operate from the very beginning.”

A greater knowledge of social responsibility among these first ambassadors would help companies avoid costly social problems, according to Boon. This is why he is heading up an initiative to push universities to include more social responsibility training in geology and engineering technical programs, and to offer CSR certificate programs. The idea is in its early stages, but working groups in Canada and Peru will be consulting with industry organizations like MAC and PDAC, along with university and community groups, with the goal of eventually drafting and implementing CSR curricula into university programs.

Some universities have begun to offer CSR training, and general CSR certificate programs like those offered at McGill and Queen’s also exist. But Boon said they tend to train CSR specialists rather than technical professionals, and he is instead advocating a more inclusive approach: “CSR really has to permeate the company, otherwise in the long run it won’t work.”

Cooper Quinn, a senior geologist with McLeod Williams and 2009 B.Sc. graduate of Simon Fraser University’s earth sciences program, sees the benefit of such an initiative. “As a geologist, you might be thrown out into the field with a local or First Nations person from the community, so you need to have some kind of awareness of the issues,” he said. “And really, I don’t think people coming out of school have any awareness. There really isn’t any social responsibility education at the university level.

“If people were more educated straight out of the gate, it would benefit the industry as a whole,” Quinn said, adding this would be especially helpful for the juniors, “where the resources are a little bit tighter. A junior mining company of 10 people isn’t going to have their own [CSR] specialists who do nothing but that for a small company.”

Dialogue has to start at the very first moment, said Boon, but it must also be understood as a process. “The point of a dialogue is that you interact, that you understand the other party’s viewpoints and respect what they say,” he added.

Basic CSR, Quinn suggested, is not complicated: “A lot of it comes down to common sense. Being nice to people. Treating people like human beings. If people have questions, explain things to them.” Most issues, he added, stem from a lack of communication. “Even if you’re just doing some soil sampling,” he said, “it’s just as important to explain to people what you’re doing. Sometimes it just takes 20 minutes.”

The communication lines need to remain open too, said Boon: “The phrase ‘social licence to operate’ suggests that you get something and that’s it. But in reality it’s not something that gets signed and then is over and done with. It keeps changing all the time. Dialogue is not a package and a project. It’s a way of life.”

CIM Award names change

Prestige remains the same

Awards-write-up

Hendrik Falck (left) accepts the J.C. Sproule Memorial Plaque at the 2013 CIM Awards. The award, renamed the J.C. Sproule Northern Exploration Award, is one of several honours whose names have been changed to more clearly represent the spirit of the awards | The Photo Commission

The annual CIM Awards ceremony is a centrepiece of the CIM Convention. It is the opportunity to honour important figures from the rich history of CIM and mining, while also giving Canada’s brightest and hardest-working mining professionals the opportunity to receive some well-deserved recognition from their peers for their efforts.

To ensure the tradition endures, CIM recently updated the names of more than a dozen of its awards to provide members seeking to nominate a colleague a clearer understanding of the nature of achievement each award recognizes.

And do not forget, the awards nomination process is underway. To nominate someone who you think is deserving of recognition, visit the Awards section on the CIM website.

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