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The mine of the future achieves real social and environmental sustainability

The mine of the future is not just a digital mine.  It is rather, a smarter mine model, where advancements in technology are used to support better decision making.  Ben Burnand, Managing Director, The MSA Group talks about how the mining industry can use the current positive momentum around technology to support the principles of sustainability.

The Mine of the Future is synonymous with technology. Ben proposes that maybe the focus is too much on technology and that we should remind ourselves of what we are trying to achieve through technology. The Mine of the Future has got to be one where the leadership are able to provide greater assurance to their partners. Decisions need to consider the greater system, which extends beyond the mine gate. The topics of environment and community need to be correctly weighted and integrated into planning platforms. Beyond the natural bias towards technologies that focus on efficiency we should be architecting a model that considers effectiveness and sustainability.  While technology will help us to get there, it is not enough to think of the future of mining as digitization.

Ben is optimistic about the sustainable future of mining. “You have to believe it is possible to do things better, and smarter, it just needs the right driving factors,” he says. True sustainability is more than a check-list item to meet the requirements of a KPI.  While there is a place for policies, it really is about shifting focus from compliance to caring.

Making wise decisions

Sustainability lies in the hands of the wise decision maker. One who considers the broader impact of their actions.

Ben believes that as we embrace this ‘future dynamic’ we need to ensure we are developing the appropriate capabilities in parallel.  Again, we need to think beyond the more obvious competencies related developing digital solutions and think about how we develop wise decision makers to lead our industry responsibly. We need to develop a genuine understanding of systems thinking and decision quality. We need to revisit the curricula that balanced history, philosophy and economics and then leverage technology to help us make decisions that consider a broader perspective.

“In the ESG space, quite often focus is stolen by reporting deadlines. Intelligent people become slaves to compliance, bemoaning their inability to find the required time to think strategically” suggests Ben “We need to use this technology momentum to simplify reporting and bring the focus back to thinking and thinking more long-term”.

Investors are also part of the challenge. To raise capital, you need the backing of investors, as such, investors dictate the behaviour of CEOs. Typically, investors are short-term in their mindsets. “Generally sustainable strategies and policies extend past the average investor’s mindset, even extend past government elections,” says Ben. “This is the challenge you are having to balance. The perfect government should institute policies that take ten years plus to really grow roots, the problem is they must win elections every four years. The same thing happens to CEOs.”

The role of technology in the mine of the future

A sustainable mine requires strategic thinking and effective management. Technology has and always will evolve to support both.  From reducing the time spent developing reports to being able to model entire systems, leadership should look forward to being armed with better-integrated intelligence based upon which they will still need to make the important decisions.  Digitization is inevitable, according to Ben, but it is important to build roadmaps or blueprints that do not only look at the technology that helps you mine faster and consider the entire ecosystem and the implications of change. “Tools such as IsoMetrix are as important as your grade control system in providing perspective,” he explains, “They all play a part in the system and they all have an effect.”

Conclusion

As global miners, we need to appreciate the role mining plays in the regions we operate, and our commitments post the typical mining lifecycle. From first exploration mapping to rehabilitation and closing, expectations and therefore the concept of sustainability extends this time frame. “The new mining model is one that understands the concept of common purpose, and develops the capabilities to improve on the past. Research or effort into integrated planning platforms that include the softer, human topics will ensure that mining contributes positively and enjoys the support from its partners”