According to the sustainable development division of the United Nations, in the 20th century, the large-scale extraction of minerals used in construction increased by 34 times, while the extraction of industrial minerals and ores increased by 27 times. Both of these figures show that the increase in the pace of resource extraction significantly outpaced the increase of the global population, which quadrupled, and the global GDP, which increased by 24 times.
In other words, despite the fact that sustainable mining practices have been a concern for more than 50 years, they are now more important than ever. As demand for resources continues to grow, mining companies are focused on figuring out how to deliver raw materials as efficiently and sustainably as possible — and the driving force behind this effort is technology.
Many technological improvements in mining have a direct impact on efficiency, but when companies can produce more raw materials with the same amount of labor and resources, improvements in efficiency equate to improvements in sustainability as well.
Mining requires lots of reporting, and while in the past you had to fax these reports, now with smartphones and iPads, everything is right at your fingertips. Technology has also reduced the emissions produced by vehicles. Other innovations, such as rollover protection systems, reduce accidents and downtime.
Planning and mapping technology has come a long way, and with the integration of drones for aerial mapping, plans are more precise and detailed than ever before — meaning mining leaders are more informed and make better decisions.
Still, while technology is a key part of creating a more sustainable industry, it’s just one component. People are the other side of the coin, and it’s up to industry leaders to ensure they’re doing everything they can to create sustainable components. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few critical steps to ensure you’re headed in the right direction:
Most people don’t want to be a part of a company that destroys valuable natural resources without a thought for the future. When it comes to Millennials, sustainability is even more important, and according to the Pew Research Center, this generation is now the largest part of the labor force.
A company culture that emphasizes sustainability is not only good for the environment and the future of the mining industry, but it also helps attract and retain talented employees who will drive the next stage of growth for your company.
Fresh ideas and outlooks aren’t just welcomed; they’re needed in the mining industry. Give people a shot and provide them with a chance to learn, and you might be surprised by what they can offer you in return.
One way to educate aspiring miners is by offering internship programs through local academic institutions. These programs are a cost-effective way to ensure numbers don’t fluctuate wildly during the highs and lows of the mining economic cycle, and they give graduates a base level of experience that they can build on if they choose to enter the industry.
It’s natural to approach new technologies with skepticism. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we can’t always afford to wait until technologies have been proven over and over again. Being on the cutting edge of technology in the mining industry provides advantages in terms of efficiency, safety, and sustainability, and it should be encouraged.
Canadian mining company B2Gold had all of these benefits in mind when it announced that it will be building a seven-megawatt solar plant to power the operation of its Otjikoto mine in Namibia. Not only will the solar plant result in lowered emissions, but it will also reduce fuel costs, making it a win-win for the company — and the planet.
Mining has long had a bad reputation as a destructive practice driven by greed and disregard for the environment. The reality is that mineral resource extraction keeps entire industries going, and without it, our economy would grind to a halt. Miners recognize this fact, which is why mining companies are making every effort to make their industry a sustainable one that can continue to provide the raw materials that build the future.
(By Lauren Elmore)
Lauren Elmore is the president of Firmatek, a leader in the mining, construction, and solid waste industries that specializes in using drones and data collection to solve problems related to inventory and stockpile measurement, mining and solid waste mapping, and construction and engineering work. Lauren is also a Stanford University graduate with a degree in economics, and she was a member of the Stanford Women’s Gymnastics team.