Harrison Mitchell on Responsible Sourcing
Life of Mine keynote speaker Harrison Mitchell shares what he is most looking forward to at this years conference, the challenges industry is facing to ensure responsible sourcing, and how Australia is performing compared to the rest of the world.
What message would you most like to highlight to the delegates at the upcoming conference?
The anticipated shifts in market expectations to incorporate circularity, lower carbon emissions and to account for social impact into raw material value chains are being accelerated as regulation from the EU and US starts to impact your customers.
Economic incentives now include or align with sustainability performance expectations such as GHG footprint limits and compliance requirements for traceability and monitoring.
This means more pressure on sustainability performance, and on related transparency and disclosures.
How is Australia performing compared to the rest of the world when it comes to responsible sourcing?
While Australia is not considered as high risk as other geographies the performance expectations at this point are fairly consistent worldwide - good practice is a high bar and set across a broad range of ESG criteria. The issue for Australian companies is that what was considered good practice 20 years ago is barely acceptable now and large parts of the ESG scope is entirely new and unknown.
From what we have observed in Australia, sustainability performance is mixed, with some companies outperforming, while others are clearly laggards. Or the mix might be excellent in some ESG categories and poor in other categories within the same company!
From a regulatory perspective, we see most innovation coming from the EU and US, but it’s clear that new requirements will emerge from individual states such as China, Japan, and Canada in due course. Hopefully, these will align with existing requirements already established in the US and EU.
Continuing on, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities industry is currently facing to ensure targets and strategies are in place for responsible sourcing?
We work with some large Australian mining companies, and these are the key challenges and opportunities that have come from that engagement.
- Simply understanding the increasing number of regulatory requirements, emerging standards is a major challenge for companies. Especially for larger companies we found that different groups or parts of the company will be engaged with different standards at different levels. This results in overlapping and outsized commitments, inefficiencies, increased cost but still might not deliver what is required - i.e., performance.
- Once that basic understanding is achieved the next challenge is strategic - understanding where to prioritise efforts across the value chain and within the company. What is a necessary action for market access and what is more aspirational ambition? Where is the risk and how to address it? Many companies find themselves on the sharp end of multiple customer requests. Setting a clear and consistent policy and strategy moves companies from a passive to a proactive approach towards responsible sourcing.
- Access! Australian companies are in a strong position to meet most ESG performance criteria and leverage that to their advantage in the market. A company with strong ESG credentials and low carbon footprint is likely to be increasingly attractive to public companies who are highly scrutinised and have annual carbon reduction targets.
- Impact! My hope is that the increasing focus on responsible and sustainable sourcing is not just another set of boxes to tick - rather it has to relate explicitly to improved performance on critical issues - whether that is GHG emissions or site rehabilitation. By its nature responsible sourcing disclosures tend to bring upstream and downstream parts of the value chain together - and this is an opportunity to enhance partnerships and have combined positive impact.
- Innovation! I have been working in this field for almost 20 years and have never seen as much innovation in this space as now. We were recently involved in a Battery Passport pilot as part of the Global Battery Alliance and delivered one of the world’s first end to end battery passports. This is a complex project that combines technology, data governance and sovereignty and collaboration across multiple value chains including raw material and post-consumer supply chains. There is ample opportunity for companies or state bodies to champion innovation in this space to start pursuing true circular economies for example.
Life of Mine will be delivering 3 days of technical presentations that will cover the latest trends and innovative approaches to a mine’s lifecycle. What are you hoping to see at the conference?
I am very excited to learn from other technical experts and listen and engage with the Australian mining sector as much as possible. Much of my work is with mid and downstream companies and I think there is a lack of understanding about the professionalism and effort that goes into sustainable mining despite the challenges. I’m keen to absorb as much information as possible and bring that knowledge back to my discussions with other stakeholders.