Data is one of the most valuable tools that mining companies have in making their operations more responsible and sustainable. It allows companies to measure and manage the effectiveness of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) processes, with the ultimate goal of improvement through greater efficiencies, control, and transparency.
Not only does data underpin performance in individual ESG initiatives, for instance, in operational changes to lower carbon emissions or diversity, equity and inclusion programs, but it also allows the cumulative effects of ESG-related activities to be assessed for purposes such as corporate reporting and enterprise risk management.
“In ESG, the main value of data lies in operational control and optimization, and in being able to prove to external parties that mining companies are doing what they have promised,” Brett Marsh, AIPG Certified Professional Geologist, explained.
“Establishing stakeholder trust requires indisputable proof of action. ESG issues are extremely important, especially for investors and people close to projects. They want to have the utmost confidence that what they’re investing in or supporting is honest and safe, and data really is the best way to show that.”
HANDLING THE ESG DATA AVALANCHE
One of the biggest challenges in ESG data management today is the sheer volume of data generated on a daily basis by different operations. As in other areas of mining, programs tend to start out life on spreadsheets before being formalized into more advanced systems and applications.
There’s a propensity to start projects, some of which fall out of date quickly, and keeping databases up to date as things change can be difficult. Some can also be fragile and there is a risk of historical data and its context being lost or damaged during transfer into other systems or applications.
Environmental operations have traditionally been the easiest to quantify, and many mining companies have legacy software in place to monitor their environmental performance. The social and governance aspects of ESG meanwhile, are often measured qualitatively and managed via pen and paper-type activities.
However, when data is difficult, repetitive or time consuming to record, people will often record inaccurate or simplified information for the sake of expediency. Systems that can help to simplify and speed up processes by automating certain steps can result in richer, more accurate data, which is important both now and for future applications, some of which maybe unknown today.
Sean Hunter, Director of Product Development, at Eclipse Mining Technologies, said: “For companies that want to go beyond manual data collection and spreadsheets and use data science tools to extract insights from their data, it’s really important to move to modern handling systems.
“It requires a lot of work to manually integrate and analyze data that is collected in separate systems. Once tasks become difficult, people tend not to do them properly or skip steps. Process automation is of huge value in these instances.”
Another challenge lies in capturing and preserving process information – information that explains why the data shows what it does, whether the proper procedures were followed in its creation and by whom. With that context, it’s possible to run a root cause analysis to determine why an event or outcome happened. Without it, it’s very difficult to interpret data and make effective improvements.
TRANSPARENCY EQUALS TRUST
Data integrity is also crucial in decision making and compliance. Unless data can be verified and corroborated, it doesn’t mean much and, with manual data handling, there is a risk of fraudulent reporting, whether intentional or not. If ESG data is inaccurate or misinterpreted, leaders risk focusing precious resources in the wrong area or taking actions that aren’t aligned with their companies’ core values.
Having good metrics is also important; it’s all very well tracking data but, if the metrics being tracked don’t paint the full picture, it’s easy to run into problems.
“Having a rich set of metrics that you’re tracking on the data and being able to go back and understand what it shows is incredibly important,” said Hunter. “Managers need to know that they’re not making decisions based on partial data that could be leading them down the wrong path.
“Being able to corroborate data and have outside verification, for example, through audits, instils confidence in decision making. It also helps to determine, not just where improvements are needed, but where best practices are being applied, allowing them to be replicated elsewhere in business.”
NO TIME FOR ERROR
Timeliness is another consideration. Data is only truly useful if it is provided to the right people at the right time. If a company is using a set of non-integrated software solutions to handle its ESG data, then finding the most up to date piece of information within a dataset and corroborating its accuracy is incredibly time-consuming. By the time the task is complete, that information may no longer be relevant.
While manual data handling may suffice for annual compliance checks and ESG reporting, in the future, it’s likely that external stakeholders and investors, and certainly internal teams, will want this information on a more frequent basis.
“A consolidated platform that stretches across the value chain can be really beneficial,” explained Marsh. “If data is integrated properly, it’s possible to track ESG impacts all the way from production drill rigs, to blasting, hauling, processing, and delivery of the final product to customers. The ability to do that quickly and accurately is going to be coveted by a lot of companies in the future.”
ONE VERIFIABLE SOURCE OF TRUTH
The SourceOne® Enterprise Knowledge Performance System from Eclipse Mining Technologies is unique in its ability to provide this. The system is specifically designed to integrate data from all current and legacy systems used by mining companies in a way that preserves quality and context. Unifying information in this way allows it to be analyzed quickly and insights applied in new and exciting ways; ESG performance tracking and process improvement is just one area in which mining companies can benefit.
“The rich context SourceOne provides allows teams to go back in time to see what happened and why,” said Hunter. “That’s so important in business improvement and optimization. Some social metrics, for instance, around Indigenous engagement and employment, can be hard to measure accurately. There are worries about just doing a check-the-box style exercise. But being able to look carefully at the raw data can give companies a better understanding of whether they’re living up to their ESG measures and how they could potentially improve.”
Inside of SourceOne, arbitrary data, including different file types like images and videos, can be attached to georeferenced data to enrich it. This is especially important for social issues or initiatives where something, for instance a cave drawing or site of spiritual significance, cannot be accurately captured in numbers and words alone.
And, because the system can handle data from multiple operations across the globe and provide insights based upon their individual or integrated performance, it provides a chance to benchmark ESG performance and apply insights or best practices from one operation to the next.
DESIGNED WITH PEOPLE IN MIND
SourceOne also provides social context to data and business processes in a way that allows for continual improvements. Every user is associated with an account and can communicate and collaborate with other users within the platform.
“We’ve worked hard to build the capabilities for continuous business improvement into SourceOne as a core competency,” said Marsh. “Any institutional knowledge or actions that are taken that generate a result are captured and can be leveraged in the future.
“For example, if a company needs to respond to a social or environmental incident, the activities around that can be captured in SourceOne for future analysis. That knowledge can be used to refine execution and strengthen business processes.”
There are no one-off features or functions within SourceOne; it’s a fully integrated platform so, as regulatory requirements change to incorporate ESG, companies can pivot quickly.
Marsh illustrated this: “For example, the US Securities and Exchange Commission recently released a new mining standard that incorporates ESG. That triggered a lot of activity as businesses scrambled to adapt their processes. But, within SourceOne, it’s easy to tweak how data is handled or identified so it can be reported almost immediately.
“Companies may even struggle to keep up with what regulations stipulate but, by incorporating those regulations as a SourceOne process, they actually become a part of the dataset that companies use.”
Good governance instils greater responsibility in any business. According to Marsh, this component is often overlooked in mining, yet it’s probably the most important.
“Companies need to establish what their processes are and be able to look at them critically to make the right adjustments,” he said. “SourceOne that has in-built governance functionality, and the ability to highlight tasks in progress and then align processes with the data, so that people and technologies are properly integrated.
“That capability is important for any aspect of ESG, whether it’s dust and air quality monitoring, sound monitoring or effluent discharge, all the way through to establishing the set of standards that a company can measure itself against and be governed by.”
Hunter added: “SourceOne is a really powerful tool when it comes to governance, particularly around safety critical applications. Companies can use the canvas design tool (a no code environment) to overlay their processes with rules. The system can send notifications to nominated personnel if a rule is violated, and processes can also be created to notify certain stakeholders at the correct time if something looks wrong.”
USING DATA MANAGEMENT TO GET AHEAD
Today, good ESG performance is one of the biggest investor requirements alongside profitability and, in time, it’s likely to become as important as net present value. The social standing of a company and the way it treats people, and the environment are central in maintaining a social license to operate and could eventually become defining factors in whether companies are allowed to operate in specific regions or jurisdictions.
“The mining industry is just at the start of its drive around ESG,” Marsh concluded. “Currently, there is some immaturity as to how companies handle and utilize this data. But, for organizations that are able to get on top of this now, there is an opportunity to drive a significant competitive advantage.”