Global Mining Co seeks input on sustainability strategy
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I received an email requesting input to use in the sustainability strategy of Global Mining Co [name changed to protect the well-intended]. I’m sure dozens of others tagged as “sustainability experts” received this request as well. This is a typical approach to stakeholder engagement when companies conduct materiality assessments, a pillar of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy and communication.
Below I give detailed answers to the survey questions. But first…
This is awkward
Although I have created and/or responded to dozens of such surveys over the years, today I am taking a different tack:
I’m providing my survey responses publicly, here. And I’m only answering the two questions that merit response.
This is awkward because I know and love the people who sent the email, both at the mining company and the consultancy running the survey. They don’t know I’m doing this.
It’s also awkward because the request uses language I am very familiar with, having written and sent it to many stakeholders myself back in my consulting days. Yet, the phrase—
… the survey should take you 15 minutes to complete depending on your answers…
—overlooks that this is not about the time it takes to check the boxes and fill in the blanks. It’s about the years of experience it takes to understand what the boxes and blanks mean.
Further awkwardness: I recently adopted a policy of not doing pro bono work for billionaires. I make a lot of my work public and will continue to do so. But requests from entities that amass billions annually through extractive capitalism are not ones I can serve for free. Hence I answer here in the Matereal World, hoping Global Mining Co can spring $5 for a months’s subscription. It’s a bit awkward to pass the hat but it seems appropriate.
But mostly this is awkward because global mining is part of all of us.
It’s not like, say, the cocaine industry where a strong case could be made that the whole thing should just go away. I benefit from mining, every single day, in ways big and small. As a curious cosmic wink, my grandfather was a metallurgical engineer and then an executive at a mining company that, decades later, was acquired by the same company that now seeks my input.
I am of and participating in the mining industry regardless if I share my expertise with it. As are most of us.
It can be a bit crazy-making, it’s so awkward. Anyway, onward into the awkward.
Also public companies’ material issues are not confidential
In the request, the company notes (as did I, dozens of times before [face palm emoji]):
We would like to reassure you that all information that you provide us will be treated as confidential and will be combined with feedback from other participants. You will remain anonymous unless you agree being identified. We always hold the information you give us securely and delete it once no longer needed.
I am not concerned about the information I provide being kept confidential. And I wish they wouldn’t delete things so we could stop repeating ourselves. One of the things that pushed me away from mainstream ESG work—including assessing materiality—was the whole black box thing.
This is a public conversation.
It makes no sense for global, public companies that flow through our bellies and buildings and bioregions to be so cloak-and-dagger.
Now to the survey questions and my answers
And so, the following is my public response to the survey. Not all of the survey questions, mind you. I skip the ones that are too absurd to discuss (debating the relative importance of interconnected issues, for instance).
I speak to just two questions directly, which ask:
What does it mean for a mining company to be a leader in sustainability?
What do I see as the biggest risk to the mining industry in the next five years?
Although this was prompted by the survey from one mining company, my perspective is relevant for the whole industry.
I answer the two useful questions, giving details of what is needed to be leaders, as well as my understanding of the biggest risk facing the mining industry today.
I also provide a brief sweep of the mining industry’s current approach to materiality, and salient snippets to illustrate the blatant disconnect with reality.
As a bonus, I take a closer look at mining and that nifty boat.
Okay. Let’s have a look. Get ready to dig deep.
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