Cleaning Up Developing Mining Practices

Sustainable mining | BCBusiness
A B.C.-based institute launching this month wants to help developing countries tap resources sustainably.

A B.C.-based institute launching this month wants to help developing countries—and Canadian mining firms operating there—tap resources sustainably

Mining is a notoriously dirty business. Despite the global race to uncover the raw building blocks of innovation and growth, much of its bounty lies beneath lands rife with conflict and corruption—not exactly places that steward environmental monitoring or human rights. As a result, sustainable mining has become a hot topic, industry-wide. With that in mind, two B.C. universities are aiming to help developing countries sustainably manage their mining industries.

UBC’s Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering and SFU’s Beedie School of Business have partnered to run the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID). The institute, funded by a $25-million grant from the federal Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and scheduled to open later this month, will assist countries with emerging extraction industries to develop practices and policies aimed at reducing poverty and protecting their environments. École Polytechnique de Montreal will be another partner.

Daniel Shapiro, dean of SFU’s Beedie School of Business, says the institute’s goal is not to help mining companies per se, but to help governments and communities. “Industry understands… having uncertain laws and regulations and an uncertain regulatory environment and having a very uncertain community environment is really the worst thing for them,” he says.

Indeed, companies from Canada and other developed countries are increasingly staking expensive claims in emerging markets, only to become mired in local conflicts. In March, tens of thousands of Colom bians took to the streets, protesting against Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals Corp. over concerns that the company’s gold-mining project would devastate their water supply. Similar protests have taken place this year against Canadian firms operating in about a dozen other countries. In addition, Canadian companies that raise capital in the U.S. can become subject to America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which can handcuff firms trying to do business with corruption-plagued regimes.

“If I thought our little institute would be able to eliminate corruption from the face of the earth, I would be delighted, but we’re a little bit more realistic than that,” says Shapiro. “We want Vancouver to be a go-to place in the world where the best thinking about sustainability and sustainable extractive practices is. That’s our modest goal.”