11 questions with TOMRA Sorting Mining on sustainability, health & safety, and the mining industry
TS: I am an experienced senior leader with more than 35 years’ experience working for lea...
Who are you and what is your role with TOMRA Sorting Mining?
TS: I am an experienced senior leader with more than 35 years’ experience working for leading global providers of mining equipment, solutions and all relevant services. I have worked for companies such as Metso Minerals OY and prior to that Svedala Industri AB. Since 2012 I have been head of TOMRA Sorting Mining.
Describe in your own words what TOMRA Sorting Mining is and how does it serve the mining industry?
TS: TOMRA is a company driven by innovations exploring the possibilities of using new, or established, technology already used for other purposes in several sectors such as recycling, food and the mining industry just to list a few. Our offering to the mining industry enables it to perform in a more efficient, sustainable and profitable way than the traditional methods of extracting minerals allowed for.
TOMRA Sorting Mining designs and manufactures sensor-based sorting technologies for the global mining industry. Our systems deliver dry material separation of various ores and minerals, including diamonds and industrial minerals, in addition to enabling metal recovery from slag. Numerous TOMRA Sorting Mining systems have been installed worldwide, each contributing to extending the lifetime of mining operations and increasing the value derived from deposits.
TOMRA Sorting is owned by Norwegian company TOMRA Systems ASA, which is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange. Founded in 1972, TOMRA Systems ASA has a turnover around €650m and employs over 2,600 people.
Sustainability has always been a hot topic across the industry, and in the last few years one could say that there has been a sharper focus on it, based on your experience, do you agree with this?
TS: Yes, I very much do. I think it is pretty obvious for most of us that mankind can simply not continue to do things in the way we have been during the last 150 years or so. A change is urgently needed.
How has this shifting focus affected the way TOMRA works in the industry, has there been more companies/customers approaching you for solutions?
TS: Clearly more funding has been made available to explore and invest in new enabling technologies such as TOMRA´s sensor-based sorting solutions. We have seen significantly increased interest, not only within the mining industry, but also from universities, the academic world, the financial community, public authorities and non-profit organizations.
How important a role does health and safety play in the sustainability conversation?
TS: Health and safety always comes first. Health and safety applies on several levels not only to directly affected people, such as operators and maintenance staff, but also to the local communities where the equipment is operated. This can be expanded out to national and international levels.
The industry is suffering from a decline in productivity, is this something that has been evident in your engagement in the industry?
TS: Declining grades is maybe one of the main drivers behind our technology. Sorting can help a mine to treat lower grades of ores without increasing consumption of power, water and chemicals and still remaining profitable. These factors invariably help to manage
Why is sustainability an important point of discussion for mining operators, from top level down to the people out in the field? At the end of the day, it is all about what world we want to pass on to the future generations to come. Everything we do, we need to do cleverer and more sustainably. It applies everywhere and always, whether we run a mining operation or we talk about household waste. It affects us in all our lives from the cradle to the grave.
What are some of the trends across the industry with regards to sustainability and looking for more environmentally sound operations?
TS: Increase recovery of valuables, reduce consumption of power, water and chemicals.
How can TOMRA solutions play a key role in cost efficiency? And lowering the overall cost of operations?
TS: By using TOMRA technology and equipment, the operator will be able to increase recovery and reduce consumption of power, water and chemicals. This is possible without expanding an already existing operation or – if we look at a green field projects – produce the same amount of final product with a clearly smaller plant and footprint.
Where do you see the industry heading? Where do you see the increased focus on sustainable and environmentally responsible operations taking the industry?
TS: We do see clearly that reduction of water and electricity is very high on the agenda. Data collection to operate the equipment more efficiently and run a plant under constant full load is also important. Other areas are retreatment of old stock piles/waste piles that do contain valuables, but it was not possible to extract the minerals in an economically feasible way before. Automation in more general terms being a further area of importance. TOMRA´s ore sorting technology addresses all three areas.
Do you have examples of the way in which TOMRA has successfully worked with clients in the mining industry?
TS: Minsur in Peru treats waste piles of low grade tin, pre-concentrate material. It has enabled the client to increase production significantly without expanding their plant or increase their consumption of power and water.
Lucara Diamonds, Karowe Mine Botswana had a new plant built based on TOMRA´s X-ray transmission technology. The current water and power consumption is 70% less than what a conventional plant would have been with a compact footprint.
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Mining investors demanding sustainability
Mining company shareholders are demanding change from an industry whose reputation has been battered by deadly collapses of mine waste storage facilities in Brazil, and Rio Tinto’s destruction of sacred rock shelters in Australia, report Reuters.
Companies are responding with changes to the structure and skillset of their senior management - a shift investors and governance experts say is sorely needed to mitigate risk in an inherently hazardous industry.
“The level of understanding and capability at board level is insufficient at the moment in the mining sector, and it doesn’t yet in our view support the transition of these companies to best practice,” Andy Jones, metals and mining lead at investment manager Federated Hermes, said.
Brazil’s Vale SA - keen to show its dedication to safety and sustainability after two tailings dam failures in less than four years - recently announced the biggest shakeup in its board since it was privatised in 1997.
Seven of the 13 members of the new board set for approval this month have extensive experience in ESG and sustainability-related issues, up from five previously. The company has also added requirements for nominees to have experience in community relations.
AngloGold Ashanti last year appointed as a non-executive director a mining governance adviser to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Kojo Busia, after the board identified the need to increase its efficacy in ESG oversight, it told Reuters.
Barrick Gold also bolstered its ESG credentials with the appointment of World Bank executive director Anne Kabagambe to its board in November, highlighting her experience in international development.
Some miners have also begun tying executives’ and directors’ bonuses directly to measurable ESG outcomes. Rio Tinto has connected 15% of executives’ annual bonuses to ESG metrics for the first time.
Bonuses for the director of Vale’s executive board for safety are calculated based only on health, safety, and sustainability indicators.
But companies must also improve internal reporting and foster a culture of openness if the industry is to prevent a repeat of past mistakes, governance experts say.
“The remuneration is obviously key in terms of setting incentives, but that on its own doesn’t work unless the board is getting the quality of information and there is a spirit of independent thought and challenge,” said Joanna Hewitt, a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie in London who advises companies on corporate governance.
For boards to exercise proper oversight, directors need access to information that bypasses management, Daniel Smith, a governance advisor with CGI Glass Lewis, told Reuters last November.
To achieve that, a specialist heritage advisor reporting directly to the board could be appointed, or a board could have an ESG subcommittee responsible for stakeholder management, including of traditional owners, he said.
To help investors track their progress, mining companies must publish more data on issues like community engagement, water and air quality, and rehabilitation and closure plans, said Charlotte Valeur, founder of governance advisory firm Global Governance Group.
As a result of investor pressure, more mining companies are reporting so-called scope 3 emissions data, a measure of downstream CO2 emissions by metal consumers. Data transparency is key, says Valeur.
“It has to be deeds, not words,” she said. “What it’s easy to do is have some fluff - but what we want is hard numbers.”