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‘Everybody is talking about high-performance in ESG.’ Here’s why it matters

April 14, 2021

Glen Watson (above) on what he saw and heard about environmental, social and governance (ESG) high performance at the 2021 PDAC Convention: “I have never seen this type of transformation, and it’s exciting.” Photo: Glen Watson.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche may have written this well-known aphorism more than 130 years ago, but the words are eerily relevant today. Just think about the collective reckoning that is: COVID-19 and its evolving variants, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, LGBTQ+ rights, global climate hazards (bush fires, flash floods, hurricanes), and on and on. No wonder think tank McKinsey Global Institute proclaimed 2020 “a year of shocks that tested resilience.” 

Despite all that we’ve been through (and are still going through), we humans have indeed shown ourselves to be resilient, and we are coming back smarter, and in time, stronger and better. 

So, during a recent phone interview with Glen Watson, when he said: “I’ve been 25 years in this industry and I have never seen this type of transformation, and it’s exciting” – we can understand why, in part. The times in which we are living are ripe for change. 

Glen, who works in Corporate Affairs and Sustainability for our North Atlantic Operations, was fresh from attending the 2021 virtual Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention when we caught up with him, and he was referring to what he saw and heard there with respect to environmental, social and governance – better known by its acronym, ESG. 

What is high-performance in ESG? 

“Everybody is talking about high-performance in ESG,” Glen said. “High-performance in ESG is a lot of things,” he continued. “It has a wide scope that includes environmental performance and accountability around greenhouse gas (GHG) and climate change and water conservation. It’s also about active listening to our communities, Indigenous partners and other stakeholders. It’s about maintaining our license to operate, and ultimately, leaving behind a positive legacy.” 

Today, more than ever, general consensus around ESG is like brushing teeth: it’s expected. “It’s important to everyone now, and it goes hand-in-hand with Vale’s New Pact with Society,” Glen said, referring to our company’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, with a 33 per cent reduction in GHG emissions across our company by 2030. 

He added: “Our path to GHG reduction is very aggressive and it’s aligned with the Paris Agreement.” Glen called our commitment to high-performance in ESG “very commendable,” and stated that “it will transform our company and our industry.” 

How do we get there from here? 

We need to change our energy matrix. Instead of a heavy reliance on diesel and natural gas, which are GHG emitters, we need to start transitioning to biomass, solar and wind power and continue to research other clean technologies like small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs are portable nuclear fission reactors; their size and portability make the clean power they produce much more accessible for remote locations. 

“We just launched a large project that will look at clean energy solutions such as wind power and hydro grid connection in Voisey’s Bay, which is currently 100 per cent reliant on diesel fuel. If implemented, this clean power initiative has the potential to benefit remote Indigenous communities located in Northern Labrador,” said Glen. And this type of partnering to create long-term clean energy solutions is the ‘S’ (or social) in ESG, which would go a long way towards Vale leaving a legacy that we can be proud of.  

Support from government  

At PDAC, our leaders met with three key government officials: Greg Rickford, MPP (Kenora–Rainy River), Ontario minister for Energy, Northern Development and Mines and minister of Indigenous Affairs; Paul Lefebvre, member of Parliament for Sudbury (Ontario) and Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources; and Yvonne Jones, MP for Labrador (Newfoundland) and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Northern Affairs. 

These three politicians unanimously agreed on one thing: Our goals are the same, our challenges are the same, and hopefully, our successes will be shared as well. But, to be successful, Vale needs support from the government and positive partnerships with the local communities including Indigenous communities. “None of us can do it alone,” Glen said. 

Game changer 

For MP Yvonne Jones, our clean energy project could be a game changer for her province of Labrador. This longtime Member of Parliament knows that along with the environmental benefits of switching to clean energy in Voisey’s Bay, there could be a host of other massive benefits: the need for new infrastructure like roads, hydro and internet, which in turn will necessitate procuring a variety of services from local businesses, and the creation of brand-new jobs. 

This is what high-performance in ESG can look like, and it’s why, after a quarter of a century working in the mining industry, Glen is adamant that we are living in a time of unprecedented transformation and, he stated, “it amazes me!” 

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