I came across the Development Partner Institute (DPI) for Mining a couple of years ago, shortly after going freelance.
I booked to interview Peter Bryant, its co-founder and chairman, in a separate capacity. But, never knowingly underprepared, I had a good snoop through the DPI website as part of my research.
“We imagine an industry deeply connected to the values of tomorrow’s generation; transparent and fair, equal and inclusive, and a genuine partner in global development”, read their tagline.
I can get onboard with that, I thought.
Having found an organisation whose core values aligned closely with my own, I became an avid follower on social media. So, when their executive director, Wendy Tyrrell, responded to my content call for this feature, I jumped at the chance to learn more…
Tyrrell grew up on a cattle property in Queensland, Australia, and has worked in the mining sector her whole career.
“I worked for BHP for 23 years,” she told me. “I’ve worked in a range of different roles around sustainability. I feel so fortunate to be in a sector that has so much to offer and with wonderful people from around the world.”
Having left BHP, Tyrrell worked in consulting then joined Orica where she led the set-up of their global community programme.
She later worked again in consulting, before hearing that DPI Mining was looking for its first full-time executive director; a role for which she seems perfect, both personally and professionally (Tyrrell has the most wonderfully soothing voice; it reassures listeners that the future of the industry is in safe hands).
“It felt like the most incredible fit because I had been part of that journey of sustainable development. I could also see that there was a growing gap between societal expectations and the ability of the mining sector to respond,” she told me.
“DPI Mining was established to explore exactly that gap by bringing different people and different voices to the table that often hadn’t come together before.”
What is responsible sourcing?
RESCO provides a much-needed platform where stakeholders from across the mining value chain can engage in direct and meaningful dialogues around responsible mineral sourcing and the opportunities it creates.
“The hill behind you is a fabulous analogy for responsible sourcing,” Tyrrell said, referring to my Zoom background of mine haul trucks driving up ramp. “It depends on your viewpoint as to what responsible sourcing is.
“If you’re a mining company, trying to produce materials in a way that meets the needs of your customers, maybe you’re trudging up the hill. If you’re an investor, maybe you’re a bird flying in onto the top of the hill; it looks very different from where you’re at.
“If you’re a community member or an indigenous person, you could be standing at the bottom of the hill looking up at it and you see it in a completely different light.”
Through its responsible sourcing work, people in communities very often tell the DPI Mining team that the language investors and mining companies use is very different to the language they use. Tyrrell believes that connecting people at different levels and finding a common language will be key to progress.
“There is always going to be common ground,” she said. “It’s about creating the conversation and the space that enables that common ground to be found and more clearly articulated. Out of that, new ideas will emerge.
“At the moment, the mining ecosystem is operating in silos, and it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s so much opportunity to open the door, to connect investors to indigenous people, and to the companies that produce and buy mineral products. And seeing new ways of thinking and operating emerge.”
Let’s talk about change
RESCO kicked off with an intensive four-day session in November 2019 at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre in Italy.
Tyrrell explained: “We had a group of representatives from different parts of the mining value chain – investors, technology companies (consumers), miners, smelters and communities as well – exploring together what responsible sourcing means and what it could look like.
“Then in 2020, we held a series of ‘sprints’ – short, focussed laboratory sessions to explore ideas. We brought together the community and civil society representatives in one group, investors and financiers in a second group, and the buyers of mineral products in a third group.
“And then the fourth group was the mining and processing companies. We talked to them individually about, what responsible sourcing means to them, and what we could do together that we couldn’t alone.
“They were fantastic, rich conversations. One of the things that stood out for me is how much variation there is in perspective, even within each of those groups. There isn’t a united view about what responsible sourcing is. Hence, my analogy about it depending on your vantage point.”
There were some clear outcomes too: one was the need for a common language. The only way to develop that is through common understanding, so this year, DPI Mining will take a deeper look at that.
There was also recognition that stakeholder engagement, as it’s traditionally been known, is long overdue a makeover.
“We have defined new ways of engaging with one another with a higher level of respect, with a higher level of openness and a willingness to hear each other’s voices,” said Tyrrell. “That’s really fundamental.”
The other important point raised was that the voices of indigenous people, when invited to the table, are often filtered through those of mining companies. Understandably, for many, that’s not enough. They want a more direct dialogue with investors, and with the companies and consumers that buy mineral products.
“We asked the investors and consumer products companies if they would be interested in having that too,” said Tyrrell. “The overwhelming response was: bring it on, we’d love to have that conversation. I’m really excited that we’re facilitating that.”
For me, responsible sourcing is about giving different stakeholders ownership in the value chain, and in different ways.
Now that community perspectives are being heard and valued, I would like to see, not just investors and consumers chipping in, but also end users. Once we all come together with a more holistic view of minerals supply chains, then we can really start to improve practices and outcomes for the benefit of everyone.
“As part of our conversation, we’ve had a very large maker of computers and two big vehicle producers participate,” said Tyrrell. “Some of them want the value chain to be simplified. For example, in 2019, we did some work which showed that there are at least 150 different standards that relate to mining, including different commodities and parts of the value chain.
“There’s quite a complex web, and some of the consumer companies would like a clearer pathway and to know that the standards they’re working with are of really high quality.
“Communities and indigenous people have also told us that many of those standards were developed without their input, and investors said the same too.”
The mining industry has invested a lot of time and energy into standards development. However, perhaps it’s time to investigate what version two could look like, particularly through deepening dialogue and understanding with communities and other stakeholders in the mining value chain?
Opening Pandora’s box
That’s one of the tricky things about introducing greater transparency into an industry’s value chain: once the doors are open, there’s no closing them again. So, it’s important to be receptive of other people’s views and ideas and, more importantly, be willing to instigate change based on them.
We’re seeing this in so many areas, tailings management, for example. Now that mining companies are expected to report on their waste management and closure practices, different stakeholders are questioning whether current methods are still fit for purpose.
Likewise, when it comes to carbon emissions and reporting, now that it’s possible to measure footprints and for people to access that data, many are voicing concerns that our best efforts aren’t good enough.
“The mining industry still has a way to go when it comes to listening from a place of willingness to share power and interests,” Tyrrell agreed. “We need to come to the table with humility and openness, and a willingness to change.
“I think with the long development of sustainability in mining, there’s almost a weariness from some in the sector and frustration that it’s not enough.
“We’ve opened the door to something, and we don’t quite know what the answer is. That’s scary for a lot of people.
“DPI Mining is creating a crucible where we can have those conversations that say, ‘we actually don’t have all the answers, and what could we possibly do?’ It’s igniting ideas around what might be possible.”
On the flip side, transparency can also play a role in increasing societal awareness and communicating some of the vital work the sector is doing to improve the future of humanity.
“The mining sector has tried over quite a long time to tell its story,” Tyrrell said. “But it’s a story that’s best told by others. I think the opportunity is for mining to collaborate more effectively with the buyers of its products and others across the value chain.
“Again, it comes back to having collaboration and conversations that enable sharing of information more effectively, so that consumer product companies can, a) have confidence in the materials they’re buying and building into their own products. And b) so that they can reliably talk about where they’ve come from and what makes them special.
“If we think about artisanal food or sustainably sourced textiles, there’s a story that’s attached to them. There’s room to tell those stories in mining too, but I do think there’s a legitimate fear from those companies that buy mineral products as to what they might be missing.”
Moving forward together
Tyrrell added that one of the ways we can close the gap between mines, consumers and end users is by being willing to experiment with new ways of collaborating, emphasizing that it’s important to come to people where they are.
“From there, we’ll see new ways of operating,” she said. “Traditionally, mining has not been willing to jump on the innovation bandwagon, to let go of the desire for 100% control. If there was one change that could happen that could make a huge difference, I think it’s that.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sometimes an open mind is the most powerful tool of all.
“I agree,” said Tyrrell. “Being patient is the other necessary characteristic, because change isn’t going to happen overnight.”
Do you envisage a future where responsible sourcing is the only way? I asked.
“Absolutely,” Tyrrell replied. “I’d like to see it in my lifetime. We’re at such a transformative moment in the world. I’d like to see more communities and countries that are able to look to the mining industry and be grateful for it. Both in terms of supporting them to lift their economic circumstances, and in terms of its contribution to the country.”
Having seen the rate of change since I came into mining 15 years ago, I think that might just be possible, I said. Change is only going to accelerate.
“It wraps quite nicely around what we’ve been talking about,” she added. “Because it will require that people are willing to be open. It will require that people flood in to be part of the conversations that we’re holding. That people desire to build a common language and to bring about transformative change.
“I think it’s entirely possible.”