Mining with pride and purpose

Since the dawn of civilisation, whether as coins, jewelry or solid bars, gold and silver have served society as a time-tested storer of value – but are also so much more.

Can mining ever achieve net-positive sustainable development?

Mining is often thought of as having a damaging social and environmental impact. But increasingly that is not the case. Many mining companies today play by a new set of rules that are quite some distance from the common perception of hazardous and dirty operations.

An example is Fortuna Silver Mines Inc, a Canadian-based precious metals mining company with operations in the Latin American and West African regions. Since the dawn of civilisation, whether as coins, jewelry or solid bars, gold and silver have served society as a time-tested storer of value – but are also so much more. These raw materials are also key ingredients for today’s technology, from the silver in smartphones and solar panels to the gold in medical devices and the visors of astronauts’ helmets.

While the mining of gold and silver is an integral part of modern life, responsible mining is at the heart of Fortuna’s operations. 

Touching people’s lives

Mining often takes place in remote and relatively underdeveloped areas. As a responsible mining company, Fortuna brings value to its host communities by training and creating quality jobs, fostering development of local self-sustainable businesses, investing in infrastructure and positively impacting the overall quality of living. 

Opening a mine starts with listening. Before opening the San Jose Mine in Mexico, Fortuna engaged with the local community to understand its concerns and aspirations. As a result, construction plans were changed from a starter open pit to an underground operation to minimise the mine’s footprint, the ore-recovery process was modified to avoid the use of cyanide, and water sourcing alternatives were developed to avoid competition for resources with neighbours. 

The San Jose Mine now employs approximately 650 people locally and sources supplies from over 70 local businesses, contributing to prosperity in the area. Zorali, a local clothing initiative, was transformed from a small cooperative of women artisans into an established business with the support of Fortuna, which provided start-up capital and supplied business and technical training. Zorali now supplies vests and coveralls for the mine workforce and, with customers across Mexico and the USA, the business is a success story.

Beyond direct economic benefits, Fortuna plays an important role in developing local infrastructure. Understanding that education is central to sustainable development, Fortuna led the construction of classrooms and kindergarten villages near the Séguéla Mine in Côte d’Ivoire. At its Yaramoko Mine in Burkina Faso, Fortuna works hand in hand with the local community on water and waste management, and supports a major community health  program, which includes consultations with the mine’s doctors and donations of medical equipment to local clinics.

Responsible employment

Industrial activity such as mining implies operational risks for the safety of employees. Fortuna prioritises the safety of its people. Stringent operating procedures are designed to prevent accidents and intensive safety-focused training is given to all workers. The company’s 2023 lost-time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) stands at 0.36, well below the average LTIFR in the mining industry of 1.52 per million hours worked.

Jorge A. Ganoza, CEO and Co-Founder, Fortuna Silver Mines; Julien Baudrand, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Fortuna Silver Mines

Ensuring equality of opportunity for all employees is also a concern. Women have traditionally been underrepresented at all levels in the mining industry. However, at Fortuna, this is changing. Across the industry, about 12 per cent of the global mining and metals workforce are women; at Fortuna, they now make up 19 per cent of management positions. Recently, Patricia González Pineda became the first female operational director of a mine in Mexico, overseeing Fortuna’s San Jose Mine, a significant milestone for women in mining.

The company also understands the importance of training and employing people from local communities. In West Africa, young people were enrolled at the Universal Institutes Mining Management for training as Process and Maintenance Operators, followed by applied internships. In Peru, partnerships with higher education institutions are providing young men and women with specialist technical education. 

It’s not just about Net Zero emissions

Mining is very energy-intensive, and reducing energy use is a critical part of any sustainability strategy. Fortuna has reduced the energy intensity per tonne of processed ore (GJ/t) by 50 per cent over the past five years, from 0.42 in 2018 to 0.22 in 2022. Fortuna has also doubled renewable energy use since 2021. For instance, in 2022 Fortuna’s Caylloma Mine switched to using energy from 100 per cent renewable sources.

Sustainability isn’t just about Net Zero. Responsible mining means that the surface area disturbed by mining is minimised and that the landscape is rehabilitated where possible once operations have concluded. Pollution also needs to be controlled through strict environmental management standards. For example, Fortuna has a record of zero significant spills in the environment. Where possible, Fortuna’s mines are designed as closed-circuit systems so that no industrial effluent can enter the environment. 

Reducing water use is another focus area in Fortuna’s environmental plan. By employing new processes for greater efficiency and recycling, Fortuna has gone from using one cubic meter of water per ton of ore to 0.25 cubic meters over the past few years. 

This focus on water use goes hand in hand with community support. When planning for the construction of the San Jose mine, identifying a sustainable water supply was crucial, as the mine is in a semi-arid region. Working closely with the local government, Fortuna upgraded an inefficient and polluting wastewater treatment facility in exchange for using a portion of the treated water for its mine industrial use. The modern facility continues to prevent waste from entering local water sources, as well as providing non-potable water to the local municipality. 

Delivering value to stakeholders

A strategy focused on responsible mining is a higher standard of delivery but brings many benefits, not only to the surrounding community and environment but also to a mining company’s bottom line. Using less water and energy saves money. Avoiding environmentally damaging spills prevents the considerable costs of clean-up operations. Responsible mining makes it easier to recruit locally, as well as earning the support of local communities and government. 

By working closely with local stakeholders, and with the support of strong corporate governance that focuses on delivering a responsible approach, Fortuna is proving that mining can meet societies’ heightened expectations as a fundamental source of raw materials.

Fortuna’s 2022 sustainability report is available here.

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