Bruce Conard

Distinguished Lecturer 2013-14


In recognition of a lifetime of dedication to environment health and safety in the mining and metallurgy industries.

Presentation Topic: The future of sustainability

For many years, Bruce Conard has been engaged in reading about and discussing the desired sustainability of the mining and metals resource industry. He has, however, become concerned that there is a greater issue that requires our urgent attention: what challenges do we face as a global society? His Distinguished Lecturer presentation traces the idea of environmentally sustainable economic development but concludes that a business’ interest in its sustainability is predicated on the sustainability of our global society. Conard reviews some of the most serious challenges, including population growth, clean energy supplies, freshwater availability and climate change, and calls on scientists and engineers not only to apply their skills in helping solve these challenges, but most urgently, to speak with intelligence and passion about the need to act now.

Q&A: Bruce Conard calls scientists to be catalysts in promoting environmentally sustainable development

By Dinah Zeldin

CIM: When did the concept of environmentally sustainable economic development first appear, and how has it developed to date?

Conard: It first appeared around 1972 when an international group of scientists called the Club of Rome was worried about the continued degradation of the environment by society. They issued a statement that sustainable development should begin to occur, but they were not taken very seriously.

In the mid-80s, the United Nations took steps to form the World Commission on Environment and Development, a group tasked to come up with a series of recommendations for the members of the United Nations to follow. This commission was taken very seriously by UN members, but its recommendations were difficult to put in place because they cost money.

Industry and governments are very concerned with spending money in the right way, which for most means putting the funds towards economic growth. As a result, the money to be spent on environmental issues is curtailed in favour of being spent on economic growth. Even though the commission did its job – the report was released in 1987 and taken seriously – the United Nations had difficulty implementing most of its suggestions. Now, 26 years later, there are a lot of people talking the talk, but not very many people are walking the walk because that requires spending money.

CIM: Why have you chosen this point in time to address industry about this issue?

Conard: Industry is part of society, and if society fails industry fails. Industry will not have any market in which to sell things if people do not have any money to buy them. Society is now facing a lot of very critical challenges, and if things continue as they are, society will fail. Not many people understand that yet. They think society will be able to go on with business as usual, and all we have to do is make minor tweaks and adjustments to things to ensure their sustainability. I disagree with that. I think that major, major alternations in the way the world behaves are necessary.

CIM: What are the biggest challenges society faces today?

Conard: The biggest areas of concern are population growth, energy, fresh water and global warming. A major amount of human population growth has occurred over the last 80 years. If you look at a graph of population growth over the last 5,000 years, the population is very flat until about 1920, and then it skyrockets. As the population grows, so does the amount of essential resources like energy, food and water that society must supply to remain sustainable. 
Some of those resources are dwindling.

Fresh water is being used at an alarmingly increased rate. There are areas in the world where wars are being fought over drinking water. Canada is one of the countries that have a lot of fresh water, but if we think that fresh water is ours and nobody else is going to use it without our permission, we do not understand anything about human history. People who need an essential material for life will come and take it with violence if it is necessary.

Also, the world is a very energy-intensive place. The problem here is not that we will not have enough energy, but that the energy we do have is dirty and using it causes environmental degradation. As the population grows and industry grows, we will need to use more energy, and if we continue to use dirty energy, we will pollute the Earth more and more.

The most serious consequence of the dirty energy we use is global warming. There seem to be some who think there is a debate about the validity of global warming, but there is no debate: the science is crystal clear in demonstrating it is in fact occurring. Polar ice caps are melting and weather patterns are changing.

Society must deal with all of these issues.

CIM: How can society tackle these issues, and whose responsibility is it to take the first steps?

Conard: Most of what needs to be done about it is international action. No one nation or group of people can take action to solve these problems because they are global in nature. What the world needs is for the world’s scientists to step forward.

I want institutions like CIM to form interdisciplinary working groups composed of the various members of their societies, including the Geological Society and the Metallurgy and Materials Society, and for this working group to collaborate on the creation of a set of principles. Then I want CIM members and the CIM Council to vote on those principles. The end result should be a formalized set of recommendations that the Institute could present to the Canadian government and to other governments, explaining what actions governments should take.

I do not expect CIM to be this catalyst alone. There is a multitude of institutes and scientific societies around the world, and if they begin to unanimously campaign for change, the government may be attentive. We have a responsibility to society to speak out because that is the only way the world is going to become sustainable.

CIM: You spoke about scientists being the catalyst for change and playing a role in establishing best practices for sustainable development. But, ultimately, whose responsibility is it to ensure compliance to these best practices? Is it exclusively the public sector?

Conard: It is the government’s responsibility to enforce laws that will ensure sustainable economic development, but it is the public’s responsibility to push governments to enforce these laws.

However, industry also needs to be a step ahead of the game in making sure their operations are sustainable. If companies continue to cause environmental degradation, ultimately the people and the government will shut down their operations or fine them. Companies need to realize that it is their responsibility to figure out what it is that they must do to maintain their social licence to operate.

Biography

In 1973, after receiving a doctorate in physical chemistry, Bruce Conard joined Inco’s laboratory in Mississauga to conduct research in the areas of pyrometallurgy, electrochemistry and hydrometallurgy. Conard became Inco’s director of process research. In 1995, he switched focus to become a vice-president at Inco and to assume corporate responsibility for all scientific matters, policies and programs dealing with the effects of metals on human health and the environment. He was awarded the Sheridan Park Technical Achievement Award in 1988, received the Metallurgical Society’s Sherritt Hydrometallurgy Award in 1991, the Silver Medal in 1996, and was inducted as a Fellow of CIM in 1996. He retired from Inco in 2004, but remains active in trying to bring sound science to the issues around the safe production and use of metals.

CIM Foundation logo