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How can you achieve better value from sustainability assurance?

How can you achieve better value from sustainability assurance?

Guest post by Sabrina Dias and Kyle Krater. This article originally appeared on our Canadian partner, Sabrina Dias, President of Sabrina Dias Consulting (SDC)’s blog. SDC is a consulting firm specializing in bringing sustainability solutions to the extractives industry.  

How can the sustainability assurance process create value for your organization? In other words, how can you get value out of sustainability assurance beyond the benefits of fulfilling membership requirements and receiving accolades for performing well? These are questions that most professionals involved in the assurance process at both corporate and site levels frequently ask themselves.

Deriving value from sustainability assurance

When evaluating areas that could be cut, sustainability assurance programs are often considered to be expendable because the return on investment is not well understood or immediately measurable. To determine the validity of this strategy we examined what value is derived from sustainability assurance.

Interviews and surveys were conducted with approximately 30 mining professionals from the precious metals, base metals, ferrous and non-ferrous, in Canada to determine how they used sustainability assurance and what impact it had on their role within an organization. In doing so, we have identified how and why sustainability assurance creates value for companies. Value, as defined here, encompasses more than monetary value. Many intangibles, like a company’s privilege to operate, improved stakeholder reputation and brand recognition as an industry leader, define value. The survey found that:

  • 67% of respondents use sustainability assurance to evaluate their sustainability goals.
  • 44% of respondents use sustainability assurance to manage their sustainability goals.
  • 56% of respondents use sustainability assurance to set their performance objectives.

Respondents to our survey identified a variety of frameworks used including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Mining Association of Canada’s Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM), the International Council for Mining and Metals (ICMM) Principles, the UN Global Compact, and ISO certifications. Respondents agreed that sustainability assurance helped their company evaluate its sustainability goals and, particularly in the case of TSM, helped align corporate and site goals.

What are the benefits derived from performing well on sustainability assurance?

  • Confirmation that HSE systems and controls are working effectively
  • Reputation and credibility with stakeholders (including shareholders and investors)
  • Privilege to operate
  • Internal communications and alignment with corporate KPIs
  • Opportunity to receive feedback and improve sustainability systems

It was clear from our research that disconnection between corporate and site is very common and the sustainability assurance process tends to highlight this issue. Instead, flip this problem on its head and use the assurance process to bridge the gap between corporate and site.

We found that the sustainability assurance process:

  • Validates that operating procedures and management systems are good and working effectively. For more junior companies, sustainability assurance validates the need for systemization to manage risks.
  • Increases confidence that efforts are on track, which translates into confidence with stakeholders.
  • Builds credibility for sustainability within the organization and can help win ground with ‘naysayers’.

Our recommendations for Sustainability Assurance:

  1. Set goals and identify key performance indicators with input from corporate and site teams.
  2. Create a baseline, measure against it and report it. Communication will move corporate and site teams towards alignment.
  3. Make improvements based on your goals and have a third-party do the audit. This will increase confidence that your systems are working and you are moving toward the desired end goal.
  4. Sustainability assurance is valued differently depending on your perspective i.e. site or corporate. At the start, conduct internal consultation and ask ‘what do you want out of this assurance process?’ For example: to build communications with communities, to validate investment in sustainability with the board of directors, or to demonstrate the need for sustainability programs to the executive level. Asking corporate and site teams what they want from an assurance process will increase understanding and close the gap between corporate and site.


About the Author:

Sabrina Dias is a respected leader in the mining industry with more than 15 years of experience tackling some of the industry’s most challenging sustainability-related issues for multi-billion dollar projects. As President of SDC, Sabrina works closely with clients around the globe on corporate and site-level sustainability strategies that strengthen business performance and maximize stakeholder support. She leverages her engineering background and extensive experience in sustainability to develop pragmatic solutions.