Sustainability Committee Chairman's review
In this Q&A, Mike Brown, Gem Diamonds' Sustainability Committee Chairman, provides insight into the progress made concerning the Group's sustainability objectives during the year.
Q: As the Chairman of the Sustainability Committee, what do you believe sets Gem Diamonds' approach to sustainability apart from its peers?
Sustainability is entrenched within Gem Diamonds and has become a point of pride for our employees at all business levels – with buy-in from the shop floor to Board level. We use sustainability to drive business success; this was notably demonstrated in 2020 when, despite severe constraints, our plans were adapted to manage the critical risks that emerged to protect our business and our stakeholders.
Overall, it was a very tough year, with COVID-19 posing a challenge to our operational and sustainability plans. Despite these challenges it was still a successful year, particularly with regards to maintaining operations and the implementation of health and safety and environmental initiatives.
The Letšeng mine was completely shut down for 30 days; it then briefly operated at 50% production for five weeks, whereafter it was restored to full capacity. Our strict COVID-19 safety protocols, on-site testing laboratory, and treatment protocols enabled us to contain the virus's spread and restart operations relatively quickly.
We worked hard, not only to educate and safeguard our employees, but also to reinforce our relationships with our project affected communities (PACs), and to strengthen our partnership with the Lesotho Government by offering support as needed. This is a testament to our approach to stakeholder engagement, which is focused on creating shared value through partnerships.
Unfortunately, many of our long-term CSI projects fell behind due to restrictions on travel and large gatherings. Restrictions on gatherings hampered consultations with communities, particularly the planned needs analysis, which informs our approach to current and future community development projects. Despite this, all CSI funds were rerouted to combat the urgent community need created by the pandemic. Our PACs were provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitisers, food and seed donations parcels, and we also donated a community testing station (a repurposed park home).
Following poor safety results in 2019, several safety initiatives were implemented in 2020 as part of our mine safety turnaround strategy. These included creating a responsible driving culture among employees and contractors; and focusing on vehicle and equipment risk management, proactive response to near-misses, dam safety management, the rehabilitation of the old Tailings Storage Facility (TSF), as well as COVID-19 early detection and spread prevention. We are pleased to report that our 2020 safety results reflected the lowest all injury frequency rate (AIFR) in a decade. We remain vigilant in implementing and maintaining these safety protocols to ensure no momentum is lost.
Q: Water scarcity remained a challenge at the Letšeng mine. Please provide an update on your water management initiatives.
We are heavily reliant on water in our operations, and cannot afford to be without water. The drought compelled us to re-examine how we capture, preserve, consume and recycle water. Water is also a vital community resource, which is why we take a proactive approach to managing both our water consumption, as well as any potential impact from our operations.
We actively minimise the use of fresh water by recycling and reusing water on-site, recovering our tailings water, creating additional drainage channels and economising our overall water usage. We monitor water contaminants – including nitrate levels, and in particular the water runoff from the waste rock tailings dump. The source of our nitrate contamination comes from the explosives used during extraction. In the rainy season, nitrate levels are not a material issue due to rain dilution; however, nitrate levels could be a risk during the dry season, if not well managed. Fortunately good summer rains late in the year relieved the drought and greatly reduced nitrate levels in the water storage facilities.
We enhanced our stormwater management system to catch and redirect stormwater drainage into our freshwater dam. We have also identified a second catchment dam opportunity in the next valley; this additional water will then be piped back for operational use when required and used to assist our community.
The drought also had a devastating impact on our communities. We believe that it is crucial to construct a second water drainage catchment dam for community usage; this serves a dual purpose of providing much needed water for the PACs, as well as ensuring mine safety; we experienced security breaches where herdsmen would destroy mine fences to access water for their livestock.
We are mindful of the fragile relationship between the mine and the community – access to quality water, food security and stakeholder relationships. We cannot secure water resources for the mine without securing water for our PACs. Helping our community is not just about doing good; it is a smart business decision to include our stakeholders.
As an organisation, we believe CSI and a successful company are interrelated. Without delivering results and achieving profitability, it can be difficult for a company to meet all its CSI objectives. On the other hand, without a motivated workforce and a supportive community, a company will be short-lived and unsustainable. We enjoy a close-knit relationship with our PACs and our host countries. These relationships help ensure operational sustainability and value creation for all stakeholders.
Under typical circumstances, we would be focused on our sustainable CSI community initiatives, which include education, healthcare and agriculture projects. Short-term aid-related interventions were, however, desperately needed to help mitigate COVID-19 impacts and that was our focus for 2020.
Work on our focused CSI initiatives, such as our dairy, egg and vegetable projects continued, where possible, during the year despite some delays and remain a priority for 2021.
Q: What are your goals as Sustainability Committee Chairman for 2021? What are your focus areas for the year ahead?
My goal as Sustainability Committee Chairman is to continue to deepen Gem Diamonds' commitment to the UN SDGs. Over the years, we have continued to entrench these goals into our business, which I believe has stood us in good stead to navigate this crisis.
We will also continue to promote our safety awareness initiative to entrench our culture of zero harm, and monitor the current programmes to ensure our safety performance improves.
Despite CSI funds being rerouted to combat the COVID-19 challenges in our communities, we remain committed to our CSI initiatives already underway, as well as completing the community needs analysis that was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions.
The drought had a real impact on our business and our communities. We will continue to monitor our water consumption, and implement our nitrate bioremedial projects following the success achieved in our pilot programmes.
We are also instituting a climate change adaptation plan, and intend to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) to reflect the potential financial impact of climate change risks transparently.
It is a great privilege to be part of a company and a system that is competent and achieves results. From a Committee perspective, we have Johnny Velloza who is passionate about health and safety, and environmental matters, and who strives for zero harm. Mazvi Maharasoa has a wealth of experience and understanding of the real issues in Lesotho, and is able, through consultation with various stakeholders, to direct our initiatives to where they make a difference. From a management perspective, Danielle Kriel is setting the standards and ensuring that Gem Diamonds complies with world-class best practice.
Chairman of the HSSE Committee