Mining firms creating a sustainable future for diamonds

Abraham Dayan

The release in August by Tiffany & Co. of its sixth annual Sustainability Report outlining the company’s corporate social responsibility work, commitment to the environment, and contributions to the communities in which it operates in more than 30 countries has helped put the spotlight on the diamond and jewelry industry’s moves in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. Although widespread, these actions are little reported. Among Tiffany’s highlights for last year was that for the first time, every new store opened in 2015 was lit by energy efficient LED. More than 100 Tiffany stores have LED lighting.

And in the diamond arena, there are many companies – particularly the larger enterprises such as De Beers and Rosy Blue – carrying out CSR activities. Rosy Blue has led the way in promoting CSR, having published annual reports since 2011, with an emphasis on human rights, working conditions, ethical sourcing and responsible business practices, community empowerment and caring for the environment.

In its 2015 report, Tiffany pointed out that it has set a new target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050; a multimillion-dollar internal Green Fund dedicated to global energy efficiency, renewable energy and other projects that generate cost, carbon and resource savings; and that it supports the creation of Marine Protected Areas through The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, now totaling 14, which since 2014 protect more than 4,000,000 square kilometers of ocean, an area twice the size of Mexico.

Last year, the high-end jeweler appointed its first chief sustainability officer, Anisa Kamadoli Costa, who “sets the strategic sustainability agenda to ensure continuous improvement of social and environmental performance and further align with business objectives,” the firm said. It is also committed to removing commodity-driven deforestation from key supply chains by 2020, consulting with the Rainforest Alliance and focusing on consumer packaging including Tiffany Blue Boxes and bags, as well as its catalogs and products. It also joined the U.S. World Wildlife Trafficking Alliance to encourage the jewelry industry to eliminate illicit products, including coral and ivory, from their supply chains.

Mining, whether of diamonds or any minerals, is obviously not sustainable. Companies dig huge holes, remove ore, and take it somewhere else. Eventually, the hole runs out of diamonds. That is clearly not a sustainable way of operating. As a result, sustainable development has become a hot topic in recent years, with diamond companies engaging in a range of projects aimed at showing consumers that they care for the environment and the people who live near their mining projects.

In the Internet age, where a vast amount of information is readily available, diamond and jewelry industry members are aware that information regarding their activities can be easily accessed. And the reverse of that is that mining firms can also post information about their activities in the field of sustainable development.

Consequently, diamond mining can be made to contribute to sustainability. Indeed, development is needed to help do away with poverty and to help provide economic. It is not simply a matter of cleaning up, where diamond miners are concerned, or jewelry manufacturers installing better-ventilated and modern facilities.

Preservation and restoration of the natural environment is needed. This means reducing the ecological footprint of mines on the natural environment that fit within accepted limits of change in environmental indicators. It also means that reclamation standards are clearly set out, fully funded, and achieved.

In Canada’s Northwest Territories, for example, the physical impacts include reduced fish habitat through draining of lakes, ruining streams, changes in water quality. Water quality changes have been measured as far as 200 kilometers downstream from Lac de Gras where the Ekati mine is located. In addition, there have reportedly been irreversible changes to water quality and possibly species composition in Snap Lake, the shuttered De Beers diamond mining project. Groups involved with the topic say that 20 lakes have been destroyed in the region, with no fish habitat compensation measures in place.

Another impact is the loss of land-based habitat for wildlife such as caribou, grizzly bears, and wolverine. It was found that some radio-collared cows now spend less time feeding in areas close to the Ekati mine. Meanwhile, there are also increased amounts of greenhouse gases. Both Ekati and the Diavik mines are fuelled by millions of litres of diesel. Each mine makes a significant contribution to the greenhouse gas produced by the Northwest Territories every year.

There are also social and cultural impacts from diamond mines, particularly in remote areas. A sudden inflow of money into communities creates social tensions, and this can show up in increased amounts of substance abuse and family violence. The shift-work patterns imposed on workers at the mines disrupt normal social rhythms, taking parents away from children and elders for weeks at a time.

Even though the existing diamond mines have made commitments to attempt to hire locals, they are having trouble meeting their quotas. There are simply only so many people ready, willing and able to work in the mines. That means an influx of migrant workers will be necessary if companies continue to develop new mines at a pace faster than the resident labor force can absorb.

Both mines have made investments in programs relating to the environmental impact of their operations, as well as in health and safety, investing in the local communities, and scholarships to enable young people to study.

The most frequently quoted definition of sustainable development comes from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report. “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

But definitions of sustainable development require that the world be seen as an integrated system. From that basis, comes the understanding that air pollution from North America can affects air quality in Asia, and that pesticides sprayed in Argentina could cause damage to fish stocks off the coast of Australia.

The diamond and jewelry industries have moved quickly to promote sustainable development. One of the main bodies leading the way is CIBJO, the World Jewelry Confederation, which holds executive courses in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The aim is to highlight the link between CSR and the promotion of sustainable economic, social and environmental activity in countries in which the jewelry and gemstones industries are active.

Among examples of sustainable development by diamond companies are the projects launched by Petra Diamonds. Petra’s Koffiefontein mine and the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have established a community nursery that sells affordable indigenous trees and seedlings and contributes positively to both the lives of the Xhariep district community members and to the environment.

The nursery will plant and maintain 1 million plants and trees in the district over a period of five years, producing plants and trees for other community projects in the area and nearby towns. It is also envisaged that the project will expand to later assist Koffiefontein with the rehabilitation of its mine dumps.

Meanwhile, Murowa Diamonds in Zimbabwe has worked to improve educational resources in the area, providing children in the Murowa and Davira wards with textbooks in English, mathematics and science. More than 6,000 textbooks benefiting over 3,000 pupils in the areas in which it operates have been distributed. Murowa also aids in the development of educational infrastructure to help further improve the learning environment of the children and has built classroom blocks as well as providing furniture and electrical power to computer rooms.

It also supports local sporting activities in schools surrounding the mine so as to promote education in sports and culture through sponsoring tournaments at local and provincial levels. It also helped to minimize the spread of HIV/AIDS by running a community health program focusing on HIV/AIDS awareness and voluntary counseling and testing together with a partner firm.

Going back to the activities of Rosy Blue, CEO Dilip Mehta says: “We can only sell diamonds after we have earned trust in a sustainable, long term way. The Corporate Social Responsibility Report tries to mirror and reflect what we are doing – so that we can also clearly see where we still can add more societal value.

Rosy Blue said the reputational issue is the diamond industry’s “single greatest challenge“. Retailers and consumers want to have confidence that their suppliers “are operating in a socially responsible way and selling diamonds that have tangibly created societal added value on each level of the value chain, especially in the mining countries,” the firm said.

Rosy Blue is actively involved in various causes, such as being a leading annual donor to Jewelers for Children, an American charity which assists children whose lives have been devastated by catastrophic illness or life-threatening abuse and neglect. In addition, management and personnel regularly raise funds for Special Olympics Belgium, a non-profit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition to people with intellectual disabilities.

It also supports new hospital buildings, free medical assistance, new places of worship and schools, Black Economic Empowerment in South Africa, and the Workers’ Trust for the factory workers. In India, it contributes to social and educational activities, and provides clothing, especially school uniforms, to more than 125,000 underprivileged children.

The most advanced projects come from De Beers due to its size and large role it plays in the industry worldwide. The firm sponsors a range of initiatives in Botswana, such as small and medium-sized citizen-owned businesses in a variety of industries – everything from restaurants and automotive repair shops to a forensic science lab. There is the Rally to Read Project in the Northern Cape region of South Africa where it partners with other bodies to expand literacy; it also invests in schools and clinics in remote areas, and ongoing efforts to reduce energy needs and carbon emissions.

Since 75 percent of the world’s AIDS deaths occur in southern Africa, and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among staff and their families is a huge challenge to the sustainability of all businesses in the region, De Beers was the first mining company in South Africa to offer free medical treatment to HIV positive employees and spouses in 2001 as well as counseling.

The CSR operations of other diamond miners include the medical and other assistance to local communities provided by Gem Diamonds with specialist equipment to combat malaria in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as programs for voluntary testing, treatment and counseling for HIV/AIDS at the Letseng mine in Lesotho. In addition, two eco-tourism resorts in the Khubelu River valley near Letseng in Lesotho supplied a sustainable source of income to the local community.

Other CSR projects include university sponsorships, the building of schools, clinics houses, upgrading and construction of various rural roads, bridges and pontoon river crossings, and donations of sewing machines and farming equipment for the establishment of small businesses in Indonesia’s South Kalimantan province where the firm also operates.

Meanwhile, Namakwa Diamonds, which has mining operations in South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Namibia, uses borehole water at its operations which is returned to mined out areas with more than 80 percent returned to the water table. When new plants are installed, water is re-circulated and fresh water constitutes just 20 percent of required volume. Meanwhile, backfill of mined ore is part of current processes to ensure low impact mining.

At Rockwell Diamonds, the miner allows its heavy earth-moving equipment to be used for projects such as the clearing of roads, and the preparation of sports fields in South Africa. It has also presented an HIV/AIDS awareness program at schools near its mining operations which is part of an anti-crime initiative at local schools, as well as other community projects.

Shore Gold aims to use innovative solutions to reduce its environmental footprint by reducing, reusing and recycling wastes at its South Africa operations. After mining operations have come to an end, Shore Gold works to ensure decommissioning, closure and reclamation. These include the removal of buildings, equipment, materials, and industrial wastes/contaminated soil. Some materials, such as concrete footings, are buried on site after the removal of any industrial wastes.

Do companies carry out these CSR projects for the good of the public or to improve their PR position? Undoubtedly, both these factors are at work. As previously stated, in the Internet age, the public everywhere has access to information and can easily film and post work by mining firms that fall short of what is needed. The diamond industry, as with just about every other trade, has learned that they simply cannot ignore public opinion and leave gaping holes when a mine reaches the end of its lifespan.

Source Rough&Polished