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Discovering the pathway to the future

Day two of CIMBC22 begins with a diversity of opinions

By Carolyn Gruske

The panel discussion that opened day two of CIMBC22 built on Monday’s opening plenary session. Moderated by John Thompson, honorary professor of responsible resources at the University of Bristol, the wide-ranging discussion was focused on the idea of the “path to the future.” Taking the stage were Nalaine Morin, Nathan Monash, Calvin Helin, Aria Hahn and Ani Markova who all took their turns at addressing the issues that are facing the industry right now, what the industry is going to look like in 2050  and what actions need to be taken now if we are to make that vision a reality.

Morin, who is principal of ArrowBlade Consulting Services and a member of the Tahltan Nation, considered the future from the perspective of her daughter – somebody who will be around in 30 years. She informed attendees that the Tahltan Nation is building capacity (the ability to understand and manage issues related to mining management and governance) but noted that Tahltan members have 10,000 years of history mining for obsidian.

She also reminded industry members to acknowledge the true owners and stewards of the lands they are exploring and mining. 

“The projects, the work you’re doing, in a lot of cases, it’s on Indigenous lands here in B.C., across Canada and internationally. In the future, First Nations and Indigenous governments will play a role in the decision-making. I know this because the Tahltan are currently working on one of the first consent agreements in the province of B.C. We will be making a decision on the Eskay Creek project. That’s what I see the future to be.”

Monash, vice-president of sustainability for Lundin Gold, emphasized that the mining industry needs to be transparent in its actions. He also stressed the immediate need for concrete actions, including the consolidation and prioritization of standards. 

“If I’m in 2050 and I’m looking back to today, the question I’d ask myself is ‘did we successfully establish a common vision for mining development?’” He believes that the industry needs to establish “mining clusters where you have the integration of other industries and other businesses into the value creation that is coming from mining. Also, skills development: if we look back, I think we’d say we’d made some sort of concerted effort to build up skills in local communities and to create employment opportunities. And we would have had that societal alignment that mining is essential, mining is part of the solution to the key challenges we’re facing.”

A member of the Tsimshian Nation, Helin is principal of INDsight Advisers, which helps foster partnerships between businesses and communities. While he is optimistic about the future, he is also a realist. He acknowledged that necessity is the mother of invention, and that the mining industry will likely only change when forced to adapt to deal with climate change. 

Helin is a big believer that mining companies need to bring more Indigenous people and organizations onboard to perform environmental and Indigenous relations roles.

“I think if you want to align interests, share the pie,” he said. “I also think that companies coming into Indigenous territory, if they want to create a motivated partner, give them some shares in your public company. If that mine is really successful, they don’t have a fixed benefit and there’s an upside to it.”

As CEO and co-founder of Koonkie Canada, a company that uses microbiomes (and data about them) to perform remediation activities, Hahn was positioned as an outsider to the mining industry. She addressed some of the challenges that new technology providers have when entering the mining market. 

“It’s really important that we have a lot of data. That’s what keeps me up at night: we need to get that data. We’ve got data from everywhere and we need people to share that data,” she said. “We need more of that data. We need more people onboard. The more data, the better these technologies will be. I am always very wary to overpromise and underdeliver. We are moving quickly and building this platform with lots of support from industry, but it is going to take some time.”

Markova approached the panel topics from the perspective of the investment community. She is co-founder of Onyen, which offers standards-based ESG reporting software with an investment focus. Markova noted that investors and young consumers do care about ESG issues and because of that, it is incumbent on mining companies to take ESG concerns and reporting seriously.

“In this transitional period, capital markets are a real indication of how capital is thinking about our industry. We see companies trading at five of six times EBITDA. And then we compare that to other sectors that capture investors’ imaginations such as EVs, batteries, new technologies, trading at ten times that.” She added that the disconnect comes, in part, because mining is a complicated industry to understand. ESG reporting can help to explain the industry to investors and to attract capital to the industry, but they are only a start. “ESG disclosures are just a snapshot of where we are today, but the trend needs to be on the improvement of those metrics.” 

Wrapping up the discussion, Thompson said that “I’m hoping that 30 years from now, we’ll say, ‘there was this conference back in 2022 and people had this vision [for where the industry can go] and here we are today.’”