I am a person with big ideas for change in industry, and I have a talent. I am a strategic, systems thinker and I see huge potential for gains where others only see a cost and management of risk. I often see gaps that others do not.
For a long time, I have held my ideas at bay, sometimes hinting at them through articles I write, sometimes saying bold things to prompt a response from others. Love it or hate it, the process does help to identify who is willing to see things differently.
It is the reason I’ve proposed events like a hackathon focused on the topic of inclusion and diversity in our sector. Focused on how it is we might shift cultural norms and what is required in the working environment to help make true cultural change happen. In this I mean, not just training and awareness in diversity, not only mentorship programs targeting particular categories of people, but in changing the ways we work together, how we engage and collaborate, to create a more inclusive arena.
It is also the reason I’ve said shocking statements like “all tailings dams will fail”, watching the rapid responses of shock, disbelief, and denial…how can I say something like this? I’ve worked around tailings for my entire career - do I really believe that?
I do this, not to suggest that we are being dangerous or irresponsible, or that we are purposely putting people and nature at catastrophic risks. No, I realize we are doing everything we can to safely design, build and manage these infrastructure. But I say it because I want people to pay attention, and to think differently about our business, about waste management - our business of materials movement and storage.
There is an element of truth to what I say too. We are creating these new, massive landforms, new geological formations, when we construct waste rock piles, dry-stack piles, and tailings dams. In reality, we are building these formations to essentially (hopefully?) last in perpetuity.
Over time, there has never been a land formation, made up of granular materials, that can stand against the natural cycles of climatic conditions. Their longevity and safety are only dependent, in the very long term, upon how chemically stable the contained materials are, and how slowly they might otherwise break down and disperse into the environment.
If we are lucky, microbes in nature will help create neutralizing, immobilizing reactions. Or infiltration rates will disperse seepage so slowly, so diluted, as to have no detrimental effects.
But most people don’t think like me, so big picture, so long term. They think only about the fact that they are taking care of these risks while they are in front of them. Designing with factors of safety and lots of modelling to ensure containment, operating for safety, reclaiming to encapsulate and shield for as long as possible.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary of my undergraduate degree in geological engineering, as well as my whole-hearted dive into the mining world. I’ve watched many fantastic ideas, methodologies and technologies come forth, often to be squashed and put back on a shelf. Some due to poor timing and economic cycles, some because they were never given a second chance after a minor failure, some because they just did not have the finances to carry it through to full implementation and proof of concept.
I’ve decided that it’s time to go big or go home, to start shouting about the possibilities, to start connecting the right collaborators and helping with finding the right solutions for big risk and sustainability-related opportunities.
Our industry is ripe for change - society is demanding it, and the economics for development have opened up many possibilities too. Industry seems to be accepting of new ideas, of rapid change - they only need a bit of help.
Will you be a part of shifting our business, with technologies to bring forth? A leader to explore and test new things?
I’d love to chat with you soon!
#mining #sustainability #tailings #lean #value
About Karen Chovan…
I’m on a mission to alter the way industrial developments and projects are planned, designed and operated - such that they have holistically and proactively pre-empted environmental and social risks from a full lifecycle perspective. I want to help others identify new options, make better decisions, and generate or recognize value where others see only cost, all in a streamlined and effective method of delivery.