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Written By

Katie Fedosenko
Director, ESG Engagement, Teck Resources

Luciana Gutmann
Project Fellow, Securing Critical Minerals for the Energy Transition, World Economic Forum

  • The products of mining are essential components in the world’s drive to meet net zero.
  • However, the mining industry recognizes that it also has a responsibility to manage its impacts.
  • Explaining how the mining industry is resolving past and current issues is proving tough, but with more effective communications it can be done.

Many years ago, there was a TV advertisement shot in the kitchen of a family home. All was well until the oven disappeared, then the refrigerator and the kettle. Then the cutlery from the table vanished and the steel table legs with them. Everything metal was removed one by one until the kitchen was in shambles. This was how the value of the products of mining was communicated back to the audience.

Today, many of the products of mining are less obvious. It is the copper in the wire that runs from the Earth to the top of the wind turbine, the lithium in the electric vehicle battery and the silicon in solar panels. So-called ‘critical minerals’ are gaining recognition as essential for the energy transition, but how we talk about those minerals and the mining that unearths them must evolve.

Approach to authenticity

While mining companies undoubtedly make valuable contributions to society, it is crucial to acknowledge their past and current issues. How to communicate those issues is key and will help the sector connect with society. The industry must broadcast actions and authentically demonstrate progress in resolving issues to foster a sincere openness to dialogue and exchange with the broader community.

Transforming how the industry communicates

This represents a great opportunity and a profound challenge in the energy transition context. Now, more than ever, the mining industry must embrace a transformative approach to communication. It must actively seek a connection with society by showing how its value chain for metals and minerals enables the energy transition. Failure to do so risks the sector’s viability within ongoing decarbonization.

In navigating the challenges faced by the mining industry, it’s crucial to recognize that even the most adept communicators cannot sustain a positive positioning without the foundation of genuine relationships and trust. The perception of mining companies as villains frequently arises from a notable disparity between their actions and the expectations of society.

The medium isn’t the messenger

While it may seem tempting to label the industry as lacking in communication skills, such a characterization oversimplifies the situation and fails to address the underlying issues. Pinning the problem solely on the messenger is a way of deflecting responsibility, detracting from the need to confront and resolve the fundamental challenges at play. As Steve Martin, author of Messengers put it: “trust is a contact sport.”

A shared responsibility

Acknowledging the indispensable role of mining in our lives adds another layer to the narrative. The reality is that we cannot live without mining; everything on the planet is either grown or mined. Emphasizing this fact in communications highlights the industry’s vital contributions and underscores the shared responsibility of all stakeholders — industry, government and society — to collaboratively address concerns and ensure sustainable practices.

This holistic approach reinforces the necessity for a transformative mindset within the mining sector and sets the stage for a more positive and mutually beneficial relationship with the wider community. As stated in a recent study by GlobeScan on perceptions of the industry: “The mining sector needs to also speak credibly on how it will accelerate the transition to a just and sustainable world and allay the fears and concerns raised over the need for more mining. It cannot be assumed that, as an industry, mining and metals has a free pass simply due to the fact that metals and minerals are needed to deliver the transition.”

Acknowledging the pivotal role of the mining industry in the energy transition is paramount to ensuring a seamless and effective shift towards sustainable practices. The mining sector provides the essential raw materials indispensable for the production of renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles and energy storage systems.

Implications for the energy transition

Failing to recognize the industry’s significance could lead to critical resource shortages, impeding the development and deployment of clean energy infrastructure. Moreover, overlooking the importance of sustainable mining practices may increase the environmental impact of mining, counteracting the objectives of a greener energy future. Embracing the role of a responsible mining industry is an economic imperative and a strategic necessity to secure a stable and responsible supply chain for the materials that underpin our transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy landscape.

The urgency for the mining industry to evolve in communication and engagement means it must bridge the gap between its practices and societal expectations, particularly amid the pressing energy transition. By proactively addressing concerns and fostering meaningful connections with stakeholders, mining companies can play a crucial role in shaping a sustainable future, while ensuring the continued societal acceptance and support essential for their operations.

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