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...

6 comments:

  1. I had the privilege to hear Mr. Perras speak and thoroughly appreciated his candor, sincerity and frankness. He addressed concerns and misconceptions that the "ordinary" or "non-corporate" individuals often have about big corporations. He clearly stated and gave solid examples of how Rio Tinto Alcan had ethics and that being otherwise was not in the best interest for the company.

    What makes Mr. Perras more interesting, is by the fact that RTA chose to hire a person like him; a person who worked for NGOs for over 15 (?) years and never for the corporate sector. For me, that was proof enough that RTA is being transparent, conscious and forward thinking. It was clear that Mr. Perras has his beliefs and ethics, that he would not change them without proper validation. They hired him.

    Wish I could be able to attend the next class. Such interesting guest speakers!

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  2. I had the privilege to hear Mr. Perras speak and thoroughly appreciated his candor, sincerity and frankness. He addressed concerns and misconceptions that the "ordinary" or "non-corporate" individuals often have about big corporations. He clearly stated and gave solid examples of how Rio Tinto Alcan had ethics and that being otherwise was not in the best interest for the company.

    What makes Mr. Perras more interesting, is by the fact that RTA chose to hire a person like him; a person who worked for NGOs for over 15 (?) years and never for the corporate sector. For me, that was proof enough that RTA is being transparent, conscious and forward thinking. It was clear that Mr. Perras has his beliefs and ethics, that he would not change them without proper validation. They hired him.

    The only issue I had with Mr. Perras was that it felt like he was a little harsh on the students and their questions. I'm sure his confidence is necessary for his job but he could have been more sensitive and less harsh with them as they appeared to be much less experienced than him in the corporate setting. This was a class, not a conference.

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  3. I personally enjoyed Mr. Perras' presentation, but like Professor Jochen I was a little dissapointed that sustainable development was not addressed in depth.

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  4. I also enjoyed Mr. Perras' presentation and appreciate Eva Blue's comment about a presentation she has seen him give. In our class it was important that he prove that Rio Tinto is no longer a giant corporation that believes they are above social and environmental reproach. One element that would have expanded his presentation even more would be more concrete examples to back up the initiatives he was describing in class.
    I appreciated that he took the time to come and give his presentation to our class.

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  5. Interesting… I might try some of this on my blog, too. It’s quite interesting how you sometimes stop being innovative and just go for an accepted solution without actually trying to improve it… you make a couple of good points.

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  6. The popular comment layout is common, so it is easily recognized when scanning to post a comment. If the comment section is in a different format, then I am going to spend more time trying to decipher what everything means.

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