Skip to content

Rethinking How Mines Manage Sustainability

GRC Technology Integrates With General Performance Management Software To Show How Risk Impacts Overall Business.

By John Castner

The tragic collapse of the Brumadinho tailings dam in Brazil illustrates larger issues that apply to all aspects of the mining industry and regulators worldwide.

Risk management shortfalls have ripple effects far beyond mines themselves and make a strong case for integrated governance, risk and compliance (GRC) platforms. Without this technology, siloed approaches to reducing financial, environmental and human losses leave dangerous gaps.

What is GRC Technology?

GRC software platforms are facilitators that enable organizations to maintain the integrity of the business and help forestall scenarios such as lawsuits, investigations and injuries. GRC platforms integrate with general performance management software to show how risk impacts the overall business.

Sustainability is one area that can be improved through technology. Rethinking sustainability means evolving beyond spreadsheets, in order to find holistic connections between disparate parts of a business, and help place its environment, social, and governance impacts at the center of its business.

Linking datasets that were previously siloed through one integrated solution gives mines a deeper understanding and control of risks across its disciplines. Through a unified view of its risks, mines can prevent and quickly mitigate trouble. In the case of the Brumadinho dam disaster, GRC technology could have equipped it with a sophisticated digital risk management ecosystem, enabling an approach that could have detected faults and alerted various stakeholders of the potential and ultimately, actual, consequences.

For the mining industry, risk management, compliance and sustainability can’t be separated.

Brumadinho and the Dakota Access Pipeline

In January 2019, the Brumadinho dam collapsed, burying alive at least 154 people and crushing the nearby community in a flood of mud. It’s one of the most notable tailing accidents to make headlines, yet many are unaware how common these disasters are. In fact, this was the second tailing accident to happen in Brazil in a three-year period.

In a different yet similarly telling case, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that began in 2016 are still in litigation and will remain so throughout 2020. The financial and reputational burden on Energy Transfer Partners has been frustrating and costly.

To mitigate future risks, a GRC platform, plugged into other tools with functionality such as social listening, could be implemented. By tracking a community’s sensitivities, mining and aggregates companies can identify a risk, like impacting a community’s drinking water or sacred burial grounds, prior to development.

These events showcase the impact mining and aggregate companies have on surrounding communities during development. From community concerns around a quarry’s impact on land conservation to dust pollution, these social implications are similar to the challenges communities faced during the Brumadinho dam and Dakota Access Pipeline incidents.

Through modern technology, aggregate companies can manage their long-term social sustainability impact. With integrated GRC platforms, mines and other industrial-scale operations can simultaneously track all risk disciplines to reduce the financial, environmental and catastrophic losses.

The Siloed Nature of Risk Management

Mines are forced to manage an array of complex site-specific risks to run successfully. The problem is that 79% use multiple tools to manage sustainability risk. Worse, many mines still use spreadsheets to manage varying kinds of risks, and that manual tracking process adds a significant time and financial burden due to inefficiencies.

With different departments tracking the full gamut of risks, a holistic view is almost impossible without an integrated platform. Fragmented risk management causes operators to miss its interconnected risks, or ‘Golden Threads,’ the links between companies processes, risks, controls and events. By not having an understanding of these Golden Threads, mines are more likely to miss safeguards that will have a larger impact on not only business but also people.

Through the integration of GRC platforms many mining disasters could have been prevented or resulted in a completely different situation. Having integrated platforms in place allows risk managers to concurrently notify the environmental and safety teams, who can then alert employees and the nearby community of an issue before it becomes dangerous.

More Than the Environment

While mines work to track myriad risks, their environmental and safety risks aren’t the only elements that impact business. To be successful, mines must be aware of social implications. Unlike many businesses, mines can have a huge impact on the surrounding community.

Sustainability is directly linked to the social license to operate. For a major endeavor like a mine to operate successfully, it needs permits and licenses – and also acceptance from the community.

Look at the Dakota Access Pipeline; the protests blocked its construction for six months. The tribe has since sued and in March 2020 won a federal judge’s agreement that the company still needs to do a full environmental impact statement and implement management or mitigation plans. In the future, software-aided attention to a wider array of risk assessments, managed holistically by a GRC platform, can alert a company of risk and showcase the optimal path it should take to avoid that risk.

To achieve long-term viable business success, mines and other large-scale projects that affect a larger community need to focus on the sustainability elements including environmental and social impact. The assessment should start in the planning phase.

By working with a broader array of concerns managed by a GRC platform, including community perceptions, industrial operations can avoid trouble.

Data, Dashboards and Fast Feedback

For both the Brumadinho dam and the Dakota Pipeline, modern technology could have played a role in mitigating the subsequent complications and tragedies. If mines can’t identify and analyze risk, they can’t uncover social, financial and reputational implications and then capture the opportunity for revision.

Through integrated GRC platforms, various datasets can be captured and integrated into personalized dashboards that point to a company’s overall social and environmental sustainability impact, providing companies the ability to identify and register the risk, and to notify multiple departments in order to execute a unified response and management plan.

By simultaneously alerting every department, a mine can easily ensure it’s notifying all relevant stakeholders. For the social impact department, that could mean alerting local officials while the safety department alerts field employees.

Linking multiple datasets through one integrated solution gives mines a deeper understanding and control of its own golden threads. This deeper insight allows proactive tracking to help mitigate future disasters.

At the end of the day, sustainable mines create a long-term measurable positive impact across their entire stakeholder ecosystem. Through integrated GRC technology, stronger risk management practices help maintain a sustainable business, better safeguarding both the company and the surrounding community.


John Castner is the managing director of the Americas division of IsoMetrix, a developer of software solutions for integrated risk management. A graduate of the University of California, John started his technology career 13 years ago at CMO software. His focus was on translating the tools and skill sets he learned as a teacher and coach in order to present simple solutions to complex problems around GRC, HSE and social management. His client portfolio includes dozens of global brands and hundreds of customers across a range of high-risk industries including mining, oil and gas, renewables, transport, logistics, utilities, food and retail, manufacturing and financial services.