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A Call for Transformative Leadership

by Nomsa Mbere, Partner at Webber Wentzel

The mining sector faces an increasing call for integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles into its DNA.

Transformative leadership in this context doesn’t merely pivot on compliance; it’s about fostering a culture of responsible business practices, acknowledging the mining sector’s historical impacts, and steering the sector toward sustainable socio-economic growth. This requires a holistic and long-term approach that balances economic interests with environmental and social responsibility and will ultimately lead to a sustainable and meaningful impact on the host communities and the host country as a whole.

As the regulatory landscape evolves, the spotlight intensifies on the responsibilities of senior management. Boards of mining companies are increasingly being held accountable for the ESG impacts of their company operations thus being increasingly required for elevating ESG considerations to the governance level. Here, ESG frameworks such as the King IV guidance paper – Responsibilities of governing bodies in responding to Climate Change and CRISA2 (the Second Code for Responsible Investing in South Africa) can serve as effective guidelines, offering a roadmap for the seamless integration of ESG principles into corporate and investment strategies. In order to effectively cultivate such strategies, ESG leadership must have a set of core values to set the tone for the ethical culture of the organisation that would permeate through the organisation’s culture and decision-making processes.

Core Leadership Values: Guiding the Path to Sustainability

Shifting organisational thinking around ESG requires an understanding and adoption of the following core leadership values:

  • Leaders must have a deep understanding of ESG principles, the impact of the company’s operations on the environment and the host community and the implications of the ESG factors for the mining industry in the short and long term.
  • ESG should be embedded into the organisation’s values and strategies, guiding every aspect of its operations.
  • Leaders must proactively identify ESG-related risks and allocate resources to mitigate them.
  • Open and transparent communication with diverse stakeholders, like governments, communities, investors, and regulators, is the cornerstone of trust and collaboration, vital for achieving a sustainable and meaningful ESG impact.
  • Ensuring that ESG initiatives are impactful and well-resourced.
  • By supporting the company’s decarbonisation initiatives on its journey to carbon neutrality.
  • Championing innovative ideas and the development of new technologies to meet future demands of the industry.
  • Creating long-term shareholder financial value while operating within acceptable environmental and social limits, leading with foresight and purpose-driven principles

Taking decisive action

Taking effective ESG leadership rooted in such values and making it truly transformative means taking tangible actions that minimise negative environmental and social impacts and contribute to sustainable development. On a practical level, these core leadership values should therefore:

  • Encourage environmental stewardship that will foster the implementation of sustainable mining practises to minimise environmental damage, protect and restore the local ecosystems, and engage in reforestation and habitat preservation efforts.
  • Ensure responsible resourcing of minerals and promote a circular economy approach by recycling and reducing material to reduce resource depletion.
  • Establish effective engagement with local communities and stakeholders to understand their concerns, partnering with them in decision-making, and sharing benefits from mining operations to invest in local education, healthcare, infrastructure, and economic development to create lasting positive impact.
  • Foster labour practices that produce safe and fair working conditions, and promote diversity, inclusion, and gender balance in the workplace.
  • Provide transparent ESG reporting, disclosure of performance data, and progress towards sustainability points.

Investing in a sustainable future

Ultimately embracing transformative leadership goes beyond just mere legal compliance; it’s an investment in a sustainable future. Beyond enhancing a company’s reputation, such leadership beckons ESG-focused investors, open access to capital, attracts a socially conscious workforce and nurtures talent retention.

This is of particular importance to the mining industry, which currently stands at an inflexion point. Leadership today isn’t merely about steering companies; it’s about navigating them during these tumultuous times towards a future where financial success converges harmoniously with ethical responsibility. This has to be a priority in the mining industry. Given that the sector plays a crucial role in supplying essential minerals for the global economy, it is imperative that it operates responsibly and sustainably to minimise its environmental and social footprint, thus putting the social licence to operate at the centre of how it conducts its business.