Louise Pearce: Sustainable mining: “Chile is clearly on the path”

This was stated by Louise Pearce, Global Director for Mining at ERM, a leading global sustainability company, who visited Centro de Estudios del Cobre y la Minería (CESCO) to give a talk called “The Mine We Want to See: A New Business Imperative”. In it, five pillars are proposed to move towards more sustainable mining: operational excellence, holistic water management, social performance, stewardship – from extraction, use and reuse – and managing closure from the start of the mining project. During our conversation, we discussed with Canadian expert Pearce how Chile is positioned in this evolution and what the opportunities are to achieve green mining?

Where is Chile standing in sustainability compared to other mining countries?

I think in many ways there is a lot of advancement in Chile. The country is known for having strong technology and a robust mining industry. It has mines that were built in the 90s and 2000s that may not have got sustainability completely right early on, but we do not see the same legacy issues like we have in other places like Africa, North America or Australia that have 120 years old mining operations… So in many ways, I think Chile is ahead and the opportunities are greater here to succeed more quickly.

What are the opportunities for Chile in this scenario?

The opportunities need to be tested in the market, but we think there will eventually be an ability to differentiate green copper from non-green copper in the commodities market.  I think we are starting to see the consumer facing industries, based on pressure from the end users and investors, look more deeply into their value chains and supply chains for differentiators in sustainability. I think Chile really has the potential to meet the emerging demands.

How important is it for the sector to be more inclusive and to have more diversity?

There is much reasearch done across all industries on how a more diverse management team, or board, or workforce creates better business outcomes. Mining is a challenge, the remoteness of mining and just the way it has evolved over the past decades has made it a one-gender heavy industry, but the opportunities are there. When I started my career there was only 1 woman in 400 technical people in my consulting firm, and now there are many, its all about the balance, so I think the opportunities to be more inclusive are there. But it´s different. You can´t expect an exploration geologist who happens to be a woman to be able to go in the field for seven months when she is looking to have children. We need to figure out how to effectively balance issues and attract more talent, particularly as people develop their careers.  We also need to attract more gender and cultural diversity, we must encourage more young people to study science and technology; and then we need to follow them through their careers and make sure we have opportunities for them and don´t cut them out of the industry along the way.

How important is technology in sustainability?

I think it’s incredibly important. Technology and innovation hold the answers to many of our challenges, and if you think some of the biggest sustainability challenges that Chile has, like water and how much it costs to build a desalination plant, and how far water has to be pumped, having alternative technologies will benefit us all. We don’t necessarily know what the solutions are yet, but if you think about how society is developing technology, it is not isolated by industries working alone, it is embracing it, and crowdsourcing it.  I think it’s incredibly important both to understand and embrace emerging technology in mining and technology that has been developed outside of mining as well.

Which route should Chile take to go fully  sustainable in mining?

The concept of sustainable mining is clear, but very complex. ERM’s thinking is that we are dividing it into five pillars supported by a global view of human rights and sustainability. There is no  easy answer, but I think Chile’s mining industry is clearly on the path. I saw big thinkers in this room today. I think the key is to work together as an industry, along with other industries to get there.