A large portion of mining operations happen in and around poor communities.

Typically, a mining company will come into an area, begin a mining operation and hire local workers. This brings prosperity, as well as disruption, to the community. They therefore become reliant on the company’s income and employment. So, when the miner leaves, and the mines close, unemployment spreads. People who have become reliant on the income are left in poverty and without jobs. How can sustainable development be incorporated into this process?

One of PDAC’s focuses is the movement towards ‘designing sustainable prosperity.’ Currently, the unemployment and poverty that companies leave in their wake is an unfortunate reality of mining. But could this change sometime in the near future?

Economic, environmental and social change

Sustainable prosperity goes further than economic development. It’s multi-faceted. It implicates:

  • Social and environmental improvement
  • Political collaboration with governmental bodies
  • Sustainable educational and societal growth

Nonetheless, an irresponsible miner might employ workers in poor conditions, act in a harmful way to the community, affect local waterways and use land unsustainably. Where miners come into areas and cause social or political unrest, sustainable prosperity can help mend or create community-based relationships, solve environmental problems and create an improved atmosphere.

Ultimately, the goal is to make economic globalisation work for not just the miners, but also the communities.

Sustainable prosperity looks to benefit both the community and the miner. Environmental and social development in a region benefits the operation, too. Sustainable prosperity moves towards the SDGs (the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals) which, among other things, aim for no poverty, better community building and less waste.

However, you might be wondering: is sustainable prosperity even possible? Is it realistic to expect mining communities to bring long-lasting prosperity to communities?

The answer is yes. Here’s how.

1. Economic success

Economic impact affects small communities the most. Miners provide a reliable, significant income for several years. This is then taken away when the mines close.

For sustainable prosperity to be successful, it’s necessary for companies to make sure that the economic change they bring is more than just superficial. It must ensure a long term economic benefit through jobs (outside of the mining operation), education, better homes and schools.

2. Social development

Social development comes from limiting disruption to communities.

A mining operation should not provoke violence, crime or utilise forced or child labour. Rather, it should promote social development through the equality of resources, diversity and collaboration. This, and the economic factor, require mining companies to collaborate with the community and local governments.

It also means providing access to resources that that would otherwise be unavailable such as:

  • Transport
  • Community facilities (schools, workplaces, homes)
  • Clean air and water

The mining company fosters a positive relationship with the community through these actions. This ultimately benefits them in the long term.

3. Environmental improvement

The UNDP proposes moves that protect both the ‘environment and the people.’ Companies can do this through informing, regulation, fostering transparency and supporting communities. All of these actions tie into Corporate Social Responsibility, which many companies already to try to adhere to.

According to the same UNDP report, metal mining generates 15 billion tonnes of waste a year. This waste consequently goes into waterways, affects community environment and kills wildlife. While leaching, which involves treating mined materials, may help, the waste still impacts the environment. Technologies like blockchain could help to bring accountability and transparency into a company’s environmental impact by recording the supply chain from sourcing to manufacturing.

On another level, the usage of land becomes both an environmental and social problem. Some communities might have sacred or traditional land that the mining company seeks to occupy.

Technology’s place in prosperity

Luckily, there are ways for mining companies to control their impact.

Introducing new technologies into communities, even as simple as phones or computers, can give people the autonomy to make their own choices. It gives them power within the global economy, as well as the social system. Technological progression may include:

  • Access to the internet for online banking, money transferal
  • Introduction of vehicles for the community for better transport (even one or two can help)
  • Sustainable sources of power, such as solar

There are other technologies that might benefit poor communities, like blockchain and artificial intelligence. Blockchain can also help secure working conditions through supply chain tracking, for example. However, there must be smaller steps taken first to ensure basic access to energy, computing and transport.

To find out more about how blockchain can help in the mining sector, click here.