Traditionally, mining has lagged behind other industries when it comes to technological innovation and digitization. And companies today are facing increasing pressure, rethinking their mining operations to improve safety, boost productivity, decrease their environmental footprint, and attract diverse, young talent.

Increasing the pace of technological innovation and adoption represents a massive opportunity for companies to fundamentally reshape the mining industry while continuing to drive business growth. One company that’s ahead of the curve is Goldcorp Inc., a Canadian gold producer committed to responsible mining and sustainable innovation.

The company’s Borden Project in Chapleau, ON is the recent recipient of Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Growth Program funding. The $5 million investment is part of a larger Government of Canada program that funds clean technology research and development in three sectors: mining, energy, and forestry.

Borden will be the first underground mine in Canada to replace all diesel mobile equipment with battery electric vehicles, helping reduce the mine’s environmental footprint by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The site is also expected to create more than 250 jobs for local and Indigenous communities.

“At Goldcorp, one of our core operating principles is to embrace innovation. Mines are large consumers of energy, and as much as 15 percent of site operating costs come from consumption of electricity, diesel, propane and natural gas,” says Brent Bergeron, Goldcorp’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability. The Borden Project is a perfect example of how the company is pushing the envelope when it comes to sustainable innovation. “It makes business sense to focus our innovation efforts toward a big cost driver that also has profound benefits to health, safety and environmental performance.”

The company’s battery and electric mobile equipment will eliminate all GHGs associated with the movement of ore and waste rock (equal to roughly 50 percent of the total GHGs on site) and significantly reduce maintenance and energy costs. By adopting clean technologies, the mine is expected to also eliminate more than 7,500 tonnes of CO2, three million litres of diesel fuel, one million litres of propane and 35,000-megawatt hours of electricity each year.

Borden will rely on digital and smart controls to maximize equipment use for continuous mining and plans to utilize renewable energy, such as biomass, for heating. The company is hopeful that demonstrating the numerous benefits of an all-electric site will be an example of leadership in innovation, clean technologies, and health and safety that will be adopted by other mining companies.

Transformative technologies

The company has already successfully spurred innovation in the mining sector over the past three years. Through its #DisruptMining challenge, Goldcorp has invested more than $10 million into a number of start-ups and new technologies. The initiative offers entrepreneurs a platform to bring disruptive and exponential technologies to the sector — whether it’s unlocking exploration opportunities, finding operational efficiencies, reducing the environmental footprint and delivering on sustainability commitments such as reducing freshwater use, or developing alternative ways to finance capital projects. The event connects more than 500 mining executives, investors, financiers, and entrepreneurs looking to tackle the industry’s most vexing challenges.

Following the success of the #DisruptMining events, Goldcorp also recently announced an exciting partnership with Natural Resources Canada on the Crush It! mining challenge. Crush It! encourages Canadian innovators to come up with new ways to cut the energy consumption required for crushing mined rock. The winners will be announced at the next #DisruptMining event in March 2019. “The Crush It! challenge is a great example of how we need to partner as industry and government to drive sustainable innovation, together,” says Bergeron.

Working together for a low-carbon world

Partnerships are a critical part of ensuring the Borden Project is successful, reiterates Bergeron. “Partnering with like-minded technology suppliers like Maclean Engineering and Sandvik, as well as provincial and federal governments and First Nations groups is crucial for us to commercialize clean technologies, improve health and safety performance, and reduce GHG emissions,” he explains. “Ensuring there is a consistent vision will help drive innovative and sustainable change that benefits all parties.”

Goldcorp is focused on being a valuable partner to all communities it enters. “Our priority is to build strong partnerships through active engagement and making long-lasting contributions to the communities we operate in,” says Bergeron. “We want our value to last beyond the operating life of our mines.”

The company engages with key stakeholders from early exploration phases to mine closure and post operations. There are also thorough processes for providing relevant, culturally-appropriate information, safe channels for stakeholders to express their views, and mechanisms for incorporating their feedback into the decision-making process.

“Meaningful and ongoing engagement with Indigenous groups is fundamental to our business practices,” Bergeron says. “These relationships not only ensure that we’re sensitive to local cultural and social practices but, also help us uncover opportunities for creating employment or entrepreneurship within local communities and encouraging economic development.”

Innovation requires diversity

Fostering diversity within the industry and the company is a key pillar in Goldcorp’s efforts to drive sustainable innovation.

“There are multiple advantages to incorporating policies that address diversity,” Bergeron says. “Our workforce should more directly reflect the make-up of the communities where our operations are located. We also know that diverse working groups make better decisions and outperform more homogenous groups.”

To promote gender diversity in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Goldcorp developed the Creating Choices initiative. “The program aims to empower our female employees to understand opportunities for personal and professional growth, develop their self-confidence and have access to mentoring opportunities,” explains Bergeron.

The company is also committed to fostering diversity within its governance. “We strive to bring in people at the board level who are experts in various areas, so we’re consistent in our approach to diversity from the top down and bottom up of the organization,” says Bergeron. “For example, we recently welcomed the former Grand Chief of the Cree Nation in Quebec to our board. It’s provided the opportunity to meaningfully discuss more specific issues and opportunities facing First Nations in Canada, and how Goldcorp can play its part.”

Bergeron acknowledges that the industry has come a long way, but he’s excited about  what the future holds. “We’re already successfully applying innovative and technological solutions throughout our operations that will leapfrog us into the next generation of mining,” he says. “With our partners, we’re working towards a more sustainable, more inclusive, and overall better industry.”