Sustainability, ethics and risks

Sustainability, ethics and risks

Jul 14th, 2021

Sustainability, ethics and risks results from a discussion we read on LinkedIN. The discussion arose after our friend Giuseppe di Capua cited SUSTAINABLE MINING – WHAT EXACTLY DOES IT MEAN? . The author of that paper is David Ovadia, for the @IAPG blog ( ).

Sustainability, ethics and risks

The core of the discussion

These days,  mining projects oftentimes tout their ‘sustainability’. The term reverberates from sources like the UN’s sustainable development goals. David Ovadia wonders if the term sustainable  can be used in mining. He argues that perhaps not, since ore does not grow back once mined.  However, he pursues, Anglo American published their Sustainable Mining Plan. This includes sustainable benefits resulting from mining. Furthermore David Ovadia supports mining projects that protect inhabitants, the environment and finally leave behind restored landscape, better infrastructure and skills. As a result, he uses the term “good mining” to qualify these and argues “sustainable” is not the most appropriate term. He proposes “responsible mining” as a possible alternative.

We entered the discussion by stating that any debate would be simpler if the glossary was clearly defined. Indeed sustainability has different meanings in different arenas. In our latest book Convergent Leadership-Divergent Exposures we put a lot of emphasis on glossary and definitions of terms such as sustainability and ethics.

We also have a specific chapter on ethics. We think both terms (ethical and sustainable) are necessary to describe the multitude of potential situation arising in any heavy industry, including, of course mining.

Intro to Convergent Leadership-Divergent Exposures

Our actions in the tactical and strategic planning arena help:

  • contain fear and knee-jerk reactions,
  • blunders, and finally
  • enhance value building and ethics, while planning for climate change and other “runaway” hazards as well as “business as usual” ones.

Recent climate change related disasters such as:

  • large-scale fires,
  • flooding,
  • hail, and
  • dust storms, but also
  • cyber attacks and finally
  • epidemics

have demonstrated the urgent need to foster:

  • tactical and strategic planning,
  • healthy awareness and finally
  • reduce reactions based on fear and panic.

The goal of our book Convergent Leadership-Divergent Exposures is precisely to showcase the importance of sound approaches in this area. It is based on case studies from our day-to-day practice. Risk assessment methodologies and risk management practices must be:

  • convergent,
  • drillable,
  • updatable and of course allow for
  • adaptation of the responses to diverging hazards in order to maximize potential benefits.

The goal of this book is to allow the healthy and ethical operational, tactical and strategic planning of systems based on sensible estimates of business-as-usual and divergent risks of various origin and significance. “Systems” are defined as interrelated elements, procedures, organizations, etc. geared toward accomplishing a set of goals or objectives in the field of administration, industry, environment and society.

Risk understanding enhances value building and ethics

Consider our book as a medicine to help:

  • contain fear and knee-jerk reactions,
  • reduce blunders,
  • enhance value building and ethics, while
  • planning for climate change and other “runaway” hazards.

To attain these goals, it is paramount to foster predictability and foreseeability of divergent hazards. Divergent hazards are present today and will always lurk in our future, perhaps in the form of climate change events, potential meteorites/asteroid collisions, sun flares (magnetic pulse), pandemics, super-volcanoes, etc.

With this in mind, we believe that it is in the best interest of any individual, corporation or government to shed some light on these hazard exposures, allowing for sustainable planning and mitigation through ethical decisions. These can be achieved through the application of cutting-edge risk assessment methodologies and risk management practices. Of course, provided the methodologies are convergent, drillable, updatable and of course allow for adaptation of the responses to diverging hazards.

A note on ethics and risk assessment

Let’s ask ourselves what qualities a risk assessment method should possess in order to support ethical projects and endeavors. Some authors propose a “silo-breaking” theory of ethics. In our professional roles, we are adamant in fostering silo-breaking attitudes in risk management too. We are also strong believers in the need for geoethics, transparency, and sensible risk assessments.

In Tailings Dam Management for the Twenty First Century, we discussed an interesting book by Warwick Fox, entitled A Theory of General Ethics (Fox 2006). That book can help us understand how general ethics helps to link risk assessment, and ethics. Fox starts his philosophical discourse by stating that at the core of ethics lies the definition of the values we should live by. Philosophers refer to this as “normative ethics”. That is a traditional thinking focused on humans and their relationships with each other. That is an inter-human ethics, i.e., an anthropocentric view of ethics, disregarding, for example, animal suffering.

Ethics really started transcending inter-human ethics in the 1970s. There was the desire for a holistic approach of ethics to replace silo-based approaches such as solely:

  • anthropocentric (humans),
  • bio-centric (animals), or finally,
  • eco-centric (environment).

That desire stemmed from the observation that, the actual environment in which we live consists of natural, self-organizing systems as well as the intentionally organized systems. We can include built environments that have arisen during the Anthropocene epoch. As a result, Fox argues that general ethics is a single integrated approach covering inter-human, natural environment, and human constructed environment ethics.

Responsive cohesion

Thus, the theory of general ethics, which Fox also calls “the theory of responsive cohesion”, attempts to address three questions:

  • What values should we live by?
  • Why should we live by those values? Finally,
  • How should we live by those values?

It is possible to develop procedures that abide by the ethics of responsive cohesion by:

  • understanding and managing risks (maintaining an internally and contextually responsive system);
  • designing rational risk mitigation based on risk informed decisions (flexible solutions based on evolving uncertainties and hazards);
  • updating on a regular basis system structure and hazards, risks (adapting mitigations) and finally
  • maintaining transparency of information, SLO and CSR (integrating inter-human ethics with the other aspects).

A scalable, drillable, updatable, convergent risk assessment methodology has the necessary qualities to support Ethics. Inversely, classic common practice 4×4 or 5×5 risk matrix approaches (FMEAs, PIGs) do not have those qualities and contribute to create and maintain blind spots.

The principle of cohesive response entails responding to ecological, social and built contexts in that order of priority. Then such a project will create sustainable value. This will require a significant reorganization of the decision-making and design workflow. Projects will start with risk assessments and environmental impacts evaluations and then investigate and solve technical aspects. To cite one example, Radford (Radford 2009) reported that a group of Australian architects (Williamson, Radford and Bennets, University of Adelaide) showed how to apply the theory of responsive cohesion in the conception, design and construction of architectural systems.

We can envision the day where we will design large infrastructure projects, natural resources operations as responsive cohesive systems, thus fostering General Ethics.

Geoethics part in sustainability, ethics and risks

For millennia humans have altered the earth’s environment in various manners and to various degrees, in what many call now the Anthropocene epoch. Of course, there is no specific starting date for the Anthropocene. Some place its beginning as late as the industrial era. Some voices have arisen stating that only now we have the means to evaluate and understand the global impacts of man-made modifications.

The era of this new understanding is called by some the Sapiezoic era. Before this, every industrial accident was a “fatality”, and all slopes failures were “natural”. Today we know that the root cause of many environmental damages may be linked to human activities or natural processes that have occurred since humans started altering their habitats. That is the result of impacts on the geosphere which have altered many natural processes, increasing the frequency and magnitude of failures, in some cases leading to divergence.

Today only self-blinding humans and negationists refuse to evaluate their risks and thus act against geoethics. We have discussed these themes in two chapters:

Closing remarks on Sustainability, ethics and risks

In summary our thoughts on Sustainability, ethics and risks are the following:

  • Sapiezoic geoethics demands new tools for managing any project that has the potential to alter the environment of the earth.
  • There are four elements that characterize the Anthropocene and Sapiezoic eras and require the utmost attention in relation to risk management and geoethics. These are the:
  1. unprecedented scale: the unprecedented scale of impact and alteration through systemic inter-dependencies , with the related loss of resilience;
  2. need to understand of our role, including the capacity to transition from inadvertent global changes to thoughtful and deliberate control of our effects on the planet;
  3. requirement for evaluation skills: incomplete risk assessments do not help evaluate or control man-made or natural hazards and therefore should be proscribed. Our ability to live sustainably is linked to the capacity to evaluate voluntary and involuntary risks and establish reasonable tolerances to risk, thus prioritize them and their mitigations in the best possible manner and finally
  4. commitment need to end cognitive bias such as blind spots and therefore accepting that we have to end the usual societal condoning.

These objectives outline a very ethical and beneficial way of ending of our innocence. A way to ensure that:

  • practices in the Anthropocene epoch,
  • demands of the Sapiezoic area and finally
  • risk management

integrate seamlessly. As a result we will deliver a more liveable, geoethical world within a responsive cohesion.

The above considerations will support the thesis that developing transparent discussions with all stakeholders and sensible mitigative programs ensures better allotment of mitigative funds. Indeed, while complying with the goals of responsive cohesion and geoethics.

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Category: Consequences, Mitigations, Probabilities, Risk analysis, Risk management, Tolerance/Acceptability, Uncategorized

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