Balancing operational objectives with social licence

Envirosuite uses data to balance the objectives of a mining company and the community in which it operates.

Envirosuite is combining artificial and human intelligence to create environmental intelligence, using meaningful data to make educated decisions for the best operational and social outcomes.

Addressing environmental challenges while maintaining productivity is a continuous balancing act for mining companies around the world.

Companies need to consider factors such as noise, air quality, water quality, odour management, dust and vibration monitoring, not only for their site and workers but also the environment and communities in which they are based. These factors all contribute to their social licence to operate.

Envirosuite’s software helps mining companies to achieve outcomes that allow them to continue working at a sustainable level of production, while ensuring local communities are not exposed to dangerous or annoying noises, odours and contaminants in the air.

As Envirosuite’s lead for mining and industrial sectors Matt Scholl explains, the key part of getting mining companies and the communities in which they operate on the same page is having a clear understanding of the environment around them, then presenting this information in a way that is easy to comprehend.

“When it comes to better understanding the environment around a mining operation, there are two main stakeholders, the mining companies themselves and the community they operate in,” Scholl tells Safe to Work.

“For the community, information needs to be presented slightly differently. A large proportion of the community aren’t scientists or technologically minded, so one of the things Envirosuite helps companies do is to present their information in a way that’s relatively easy to interpret.

“For example, that might be presenting risks as colour coded indicators, like a traffic light approach, where everyone understands green is fine, orange is caution so they might have to think about ways to improve, or red, which is a higher level of concern.”

Presenting data in a way that is approachable for the community gives them a platform to discuss any issues and concerns, including within the local environment.

This helps community engagement officers within mining companies, who combine this data with human intelligence to focus on community planning and communication for a mutually beneficial result.

“Often community concerns are emotionally driven and just presenting them data isn’t going to resolve that emotional need,” Scholl explains.

“What does resolve it is when community members see the mining operator has a person who is focussed on their needs and is using the data, they can share to inform them on how to best protect the community.”

While data isn’t always the answer for communities, automating the process of gathering and presenting data gives people, such as community engagement officers the freedom to generate insights.

This pushes human efforts and intelligence further up the value chain, automating tasks that are monotonous or repetitive, freeing up human intelligence to make decisions requiring a more thought out process or emotional intelligence.

“It’s fair to say that connected networks providing data continuously is where computers really add value,” Scholl says.

“Now that’s a task that can be automated, it means operators or technical staff can focus their energy on control strategies or informing the community of the high value activity the mine is enabling because we’ve taken the task of collecting and analysing data away, and wrapped it up efficiently in a system.”

This combination of technology and human intelligence creates environmental intelligence, and a symbiotic relationship between the mining company’s productivity goals while meeting regulatory compliance according to local jurisdiction.

Scholl says Envirosuite doesn’t just help companies to discuss their environmental impact but also to monitor how the environment impacts their operation.

“Another way that environmental intelligence is helping miners is by assessing how external environmental factors such as severe weather may impact the mine operations,” he says.

“This allows operators to consider how they can adjust their plans depending on the timing and severity of the weather, to determine which activities can continue and others that should be stopped, for example, if there is a safety issue. With forecast information, miners can plan the steps that they can take to prepare, such as protecting their workforce and equipment.”

Severe weather events, such as heavy rain, extreme winds or lightning strikes not only endanger an unprepared workforce, but also reduce value from a mine, where operations may be scaled back or suspended.

Using environmental intelligence, mines can make educated decisions on how to optimise ongoing operations and use unplanned downtime, like weather shutdowns valuably.

“Heavy rain, for example, can cause haul roads to become far too slippery to be using a haul truck, so with environmental intelligence a mine planner can consider where to distribute a workforce and heavy machinery during a heavy downpour and the time required afterwards for safe work conditions to return,” Scholl explains.

“You don’t want people and equipment stranded in the pit, you want them to be accessible and somewhere they can be redirected to other value adding activities, like training in the case of people and maintenance for equipment.”

To showcase this value, Envirosuite hosted an environmental intelligence webinar in August, outlining how environmental managers take on the future of this balancing act between mining companies and local communities.

Envirosuite solution design engineer, North America Andres Quijano says the company’s three objectives for creating environmentally intelligent strategies are: supporting your decision-making process, planning in real-time and enabling rapid, informed responses to community complaints.

“Connecting data with modern information technology enables operations to move forward and helps communities to thrive and coexist. In a way, we are all part of one group, not just industries operating in communities,” Quijano says.

However, the role of mining environmental managers is becoming more challenging, as many of the plans put in place are obsolete by the time they come into fruition due to evolving technology.

Contending with government regulations is another factor of reaching sustainable operations, Quijano adds.

“One of the key challenges for miners is that government regulations are becoming tighter as countries commit globally to improving their air quality and pollution levels on the framework of improving health and responses to climate change,” he says.

“Driving that is pressure from communities, who are becoming more aware of what is going on in their environment. The solution for companies depends on how we use that awareness to work profitably with communities in this space.”

To work together, Quijano says it is important to engage with communities to prove how important the operation is to them and the reasons it exists. He says sharing data is a way to achieve this.

“Environmental plans should never be a pain to operational efficiency,” Quijano says. “It needs to be the opposite and it’s only by bringing a cohesive approach that helps us all move forward that we will be able to achieve that.”

By sharing meaningful and relevant data, mining operations can gain the trust of local communities and collaborate with them to have a social licence to operate.

At the simplest level, Quijano describes this environmental intelligence as the ability to act fast now to make problems in the future disappear.

“To comply to social operating licenses, mining operations need to live and coexist with their local community and ultimately they need to be able to optimise this data to meet their key performance indicators and local regulations,” he concludes.

This article also appears in the Sep-Oct edition of Safe to Work.