Friday, November 13, 2009
Environmental Impact and Business Sustainability
I teach a course at Concordia University entitled Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). EIA is a planning process used throughout the world to ensure that the environmental impacts of proposals are identified, predicted, mitigated and evaluated, and that this evaluation influences the final decision(s) concerning proposals and proposed development in such a way as to represent the interests of the stakeholders involved.
On November 3rd, Claude Perras, Director Sustainable Development and Community Relations from Rio Tinto, was the class' featured guest speaker on the topic of "Interactions with Communities before a Project". Claude outlined how Rio Tinto engages in mutually-beneficial partnerships in order to fulfil community priorities and Rio Tinto's strategic objectives, and to ensure long-term sustainability of the business and the community. He outlined how Rio Tinto works in order to obtain a social license to operate. Claude's presentation was quite innovative as he aptly demonstrated how there has been a paradigm shift within the company (and in many other forward thinking companies) whereby a new business model has been created. This model has shifted from value protection to value creation, it builds alliances between the business and the NGO sectors, and the project teams are now thinking long-term about their impacts on the community, and legacy issues.
When some of the students raised questions and issues regarding corruption and methods of doing business in those countries who do not have a full democratic regime, Claude responded that Rio Tinto is a signatory of the UN Global Compact.
A question was raised by a professor from Concordia where he asked "how can Rio Tinto call itself a sustainable company if it is in the business of extracting non-renewable natural resources?" A company such as Rio Tinto has the resources and willingness to be sustainable. Unlike some other mining companies (i.e.: PDAC members), Rio Tinto recognizes the full benefits of conducting business in a socially responsible manner. Any further comments as to why Rio Tinto recognizes those benefits would be appreciated.
Next week, one of the authors of the report entitled "Climate Change and Canadian Mining: Opportunities for Adaptation", published by the David Suzuki Foundation, will be speaking to the same EIA class. More to follow...