Opening up communication channels – profile on Dr Anthony Hodge, President of the International Council on Mining and Metals

Materials World magazine
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1 Jan 2009

From locating water supplies in Africa to advising the Canadian Government on nuclear waste management, Dr Anthony Hodge’s career has spanned the full environmental gammit. Now, as President of the International Council on Mining and Metals in London, UK, he hopes to bring his message of sustainability and cooperation to the mining industry. Meagan Ellis reports

This is an exercise in cross-cultural communication,’ muses Dr Anthony Hodge as he attempts to define his role as President of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which he took up in October 2008. ‘And I don’t just mean between countries. The way that companies look at the world is different from the way civil societies look at it. The way CEOs perceive things is not the same as how their staff perceive things. The challenge is to understand those differences and find common ground on which we can work together.’

This belief in collaboration is at the heart of the ICMM’s mandate, but it is also aligned to Hodge’s own views. A long-time campaigner for the environment, he has spent his career advising companies and governments around the world on how to work with each other and with local communities to develop strategies for nuclear waste management, water extraction and purification, and, most pertinently for his current role, sustainable minerals development and mine closure.

Setting priorities

‘I have always been deeply interested in environmental issues, and I came to see [at an early age] that in order to really understand how human activity affects the environment, you need to start from an understanding of geological science,’ says Hodge. This mindset led him to undertake a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree in Geological Engineering at the University of British Columbia, in his native Canada, during the early 1970s.

In the years that followed, he worked in Africa on water resourcing projects, and spent much of the 1980s in the Canadian Yukon Territory, advising water and environmental organisations on best practice, and often ‘debating with the mining industry about appropriate actions’.

Mine closure has remained an important issue for Hodge, and he has provided advice to several companies on how to go about it. In 2006, he served on an independent peer review panel for the proposed closure of a lead/zinc ore mine near Faro, in the Yukon, which was once operated by the Canadian Anvil Range Mining Corporation. The suggested cleanup options involved varying degrees of tailing removal and replacement, combined

with capping to reduce surface erosion. This included plans to collect and treat contaminated water, as well as develop a long-term ecosystem monitoring process. Cleanup of the site began in late 2008.

In line with this work, the ICMM has published a toolkit for mine closure which calls for long-term planning, including risk-assessments, engagement with affected parties, and funding allowances. A detailed closure plan should be scheduled for five to 30 years, it notes.

Facing the future

In 2007, Hodge was running his own sustainability consultation firm and was Kinross Professor of Mining and Sustainability at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, when the ICMM got in touch about being President. The offer, he says, came as a surprise, as he is ‘not a 35-year career mining person’. However, he was ‘peripherally involved’ in the creation of the ICMM, and understands its aims.

The Council, based in London, UK, has evolved from the International Council on Mining and the Environment, and the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development project, for which Hodge led the North American team from 2001-02. The ICMM’s goal is to ‘address key priorities and emerging issues within the sector’. This includes not only environmental performance, but health and safety, the treatment of indigenous people, mining taxes, and standardising resource classification. Its governing body includes the CEOs of 17 major mining companies such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata and Anglo American.

As much as Hodge respects the goals and accomplishments of the ICMM, one of his first tasks when taking charge as President was to commission a full strategic review of the Council’s workings, which is expected to be completed in October. Among other issues, it will look at how to deal with members who are not living up to the ICMM principles, and whether it should be broadened to allow more companies to join, ‘to further enhance best practices across the industry’.

‘There are some tough issues this organisation is dealing with which have deep roots, but the world has also moved on and is witnessing economic turmoil,’ notes Hodge. ‘[So] the conditions that the ICMM is operating in have changed.’

The recession has brought with it its own concerns that companies may cut back on social and environmental investments to save costs. He says, ‘We are seeing pressures being brought to bear that are causing executives to respond on a short-term basis in order to maintain their quarterly financial positions. And that could trump the issues which are used by society to evaluate their own well-being (stable families, clean air and rivers, etc). This could lead to longer term issues’. While the industry has made strides in its social and environmental performance, Hodge know standards are becoming stricter, and the sector will need to ‘continuously change’ to keep up with the needs of society, and the planet.

Talking it through

Also stemming from the recession is the worry employers will try to save money by cutting staff and training, a move Hodge believes could have ‘devastating’ consequences. ‘That’s what happened in the 1980s and 1990s, when mining schools were reduced all over the world, in Canada and the USA particularly. And now the industry is facing a crisis in human resources – there are some companies which [will have], in the next five years, retirement rates across their systems of 40-50% of their people. It’s absolutely without precedent!’

He believes this is where the ICMM comes in, by bringing companies together to find solutions to these problems. ‘The culture of the mining industry is rooted in competition – companies duke it out with each other,’ says Hodge. ‘But the issues we are dealing with now can only be addressed through collaboration.’ Sharing resources should enable these businesses to support the training needs required by industry.

Hodge has seen excellent results from companies reaching out and working with the communities around them. He cites the case of an American aggregates firm called Vulcan Resources who were looking to close a mine set on an indigenous people’s reserve in California. ‘The company was afraid that whatever they proposed wouldn’t be enough, and the American natives thought the company would only do the minimum possible, get the hell out of there and leave them with a mess.

‘What happened was someone from the company started talking to the Aboriginal people. They jointly came up with the design of a phased bonding mechanism that would allow different parts of the closure to be signed off. [This was done] by a third-party technical person that they had agreed to. By the time it was finished, the Aboriginals and the company had developed a tremendous rapport. So it can be done, and it can be done in a profoundly useful way.’

For his own part, Hodge, who moved to London from Victoria, Canada, last Autumn, will have to perfect his own communication skills as he deals with a central staff of around 20 people, the Council of CEOs, and the Executive Working Group, made up of representatives from member companies and over 30 national and industry organisations. ‘It will be a big challenge, but I am looking forward to it,’ he notes.

Frther information: ICMM