Integrated environmental information management

An IndEco article

By: Laura Murphy

Putting together the puzzle of knowledgeMining companies are under increasing pressure to be environmentally "sustainable". In an era characterized by growing public concern for environmental degradation, perceptions of the industry are tarnished by the extractive nature of its activities, and notions of natural wild beauty and tranquillity being shattered. This perception has been reinforced by environmental disasters such as Omai, Guyana and Apirsa, Spain. In addition, recent developments in environmental legislation and regulations in Canada and abroad are imposing stricter compliance and reporting requirements on mining companies. Consequently, mining companies have a growing need to demonstrate that environmental considerations are integrated into their business decisions.

Progressive companies are abandoning reactive fire-fighting approaches to environmental management, and adopting proactive measures such as environmental practices and policies that are more preventative and sensitive to public concerns. Mining companies, for whom a traditional remedial approach once served to keep them out of regulatory trouble, are of course no exception. This calls for firms to integrate environmental considerations into core business systems -- a method commonly termed "business integration." Environmental concerns are incorporated into decision-making across business units, mines and plants, within all departments, from production to marketing, and at all levels of management, from the boardroom to the mine face.

The magic of business integration is that it not only leads to better environmental performance and the abatement of public pressure, but it can lead to better process designs, greater resource efficiency, and significant cost savings. It demonstrates that what is good for the environment, is good for business -- a benefit that is receiving growing attention from shareholders who are increasingly measuring investment acceptability by environmental performance. (See Russo & Fouts.) And mining companies should be concerned about how their shareholders perceive their activities, specially when activists like the Australian campaigners protesting Western Mining Corp.'s exploration into the Philippines are appealing to shareholders for support.

Ideally, business integration entails a fully integrated flow of environment-related information between all sites and departments; in practice, this begins with small implementation steps which might entail a single department or site. This progression can be best accomplished with a software-based system that exchanges this flow of information across networks and dial-up connections, making information fully integrated and accessible. This reveals the environmental significance of cross-departmental activities and how they relate to each other. It measures environmental performance, improvements, and indicates key areas of improvements. It can also ensure that all employees understand and fulfil their environmental responsibilities.

This approach of integrated environmental information across the company can have profound implications for mining companies. At the forefront, it leads to environmental improvements, and can help companies measure and demonstrate their environmental performance, both during and following mining activities. (This is particularly important for mining companies faced with emerging regulatory requirements such as Wisconsin's permitting requirement that new mines must demonstrate that they can operate without harming the environment for at least 10 years after closure.) It can prevent delays, extra costs and possible rejections of plans and proposals.

Furthermore, an integrated information system can be designed to embrace the principles of knowledge management -- so that it combines information about material flows and process designs with the expert knowledge and best practices that are shared by employees through the same system. This leveraging of employee knowledge and experience leads to improvements in process designs, and enables the application of innovative concepts like eco-efficiency, design for environment, and life-cycle management -- terms which ring well in the ears of shareholders, customers and the public.

About the author

Laura was a consultant with IndEco from 1997 to 1999. During her tenure, she worked on various projects related to environmental management information systems, and the development of web sites to clearly and effectively convey environmental information. For more information on these services, please contact David Heeney.

Source document

This article appeared in CIM Reporter, published by Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, on May 4, 1999 (V25N2:14).