As a researcher, I have been following the mining industry through its tumultuous last few years, during which Finland and the rest of the world have been experiencing a mining boom. Suspicions about and general opposition to mining seem to have grown as environmental risks have been realised, particularly in the case of Talvivaara. Could such opposition have been avoided? Could steps have been taken to anticipate and prepare for environmental concerns? Why is the mining industry now facing opposition in Finland, just as the forest industry did over 20 years ago?
The mining boom has also led to a boom in studies investigating the acceptability of mining in Finland. Tekes’ Green Mining SAM project on acceptability pondered issues such as how the forest industry responded to concerns expressed by stakeholder groups in the 80s and 90s, and whether the mining industry could learn from such experiences.
The forest industry took the environmental problems highlighted by locally active environmental agencies seriously and recognised tough licensing terms and conditions for what they were – processes that actually supported future business activities. Secondly, the industry treated the concerns of stakeholders seriously and redirected its communications accordingly. Thirdly, at the sector’s joint research centre (KCL), the forest industry developed technology for solving environmental problems and built a joint environmental reporting system. Fourthly, an environmentally friendly corporate culture was created, based on which environmental awareness permeated all staff and processes in the sector as a vital factor in the success and continuity of business activities.
The mining industry has woken up to the need to achieve similar things. The Responsible Mining network started up by Sitra is swiftly engaging stakeholders in dialogue. The industry has just published a social responsibility report, in relation to which a responsible mining industry toolkit can be found on the kaivosvastuu.fi website. A social responsibility management system is being created based on a model drawn up by the Canadians (Towards Sustainable Mining TSM). But why now in particular? Why wait until people are angry and trust has evaporated? Perhaps because there was no need before now. Before the mining boom and the Talvivaara tragedy, the Finnish mining industry went almost unnoticed. There was no need to engage with the public because nothing new seemed to be afoot and stakeholder concerns had not been awoken.
Environmental organisations are now asking questions such as why dig up gold when the world’s banks are crammed with the stuff? How would the industry answer this? Such questioning of the need for mines is one example of the questions simmering beneath the surface of society, which a sustainable sector should prepare for and answer in its strategic plans. This would require foresight and processes that engage with various stakeholders, while involving the expression of a spread of opinions and ideas. In an ideal world, industries would seek to act together before conflicts led to a loss of trust and the rousing of public anger. Of course, this applies also to other sectors and business in general, not just mining.