Commitment to water stewardship

In response to the increasing global problem of freshwater scarcity, and an accompanying need for more effective sustainable water management practices and policies within the resource-dependent mining and metals industry, ICMM launched its position statement on water stewardship in January 2017.

This document commits all our member companies to adopting strategies that guarantee strong and transparent water governance, effectively manage water at operations, and encourage collaboration – all with the aim of ensuring responsible and sustainable water use within the sector. It also offers practical guidance and advice on best practice to our members via a strategic framework for effecting real and lasting change.

Adopting a catchment-based approach
Central to our stewardship strategy is a catchment-based approach to water management. This method seeks to develop a holistic understanding of the needs, concerns and priorities of all water users across an entire catchment area – which may be purely geographical, a physical water basin, or encompass a broader socio-economic area of influence.

Access to water is integral to human wellbeing, the spiritual and cultural practices of many communities, and the healthy functioning of the environment. Water is also critical to many economic activities, including the safe and effective provision of the minerals and metals we use in everyday life.

‘Historically, the mining and metals industry has approached water management primarily as an operational issue.’

Historically, the mining and metals industry has approached water management primarily as an operational issue. Yet even the most water-efficient operation is vulnerable to water risks when the needs of other water users – including local communities, other industries and ecosystems in the catchment – are not taken into account. These external demands will inevitably affect access to water.

A more inclusive approach encourages a broader understanding of how competing demands on water resources can create insecurities, which, if not appropriately managed, may in turn lead to conflict.

Through the effective management of water at site level – as well as collaborating with other stakeholders within the wider catchment – the mining and metals industry can become a catalyst, creating a shift towards the responsible management of precious shared water resources.

How does the catchment approach work in practice?
ICMM has developed practical guidance for the mining and metals industry which takes companies through a comprehensive method of identifying, evaluating and responding to catchment-based water-related risks. These risks include flooding, water supply system reliability, pollution, the increasing cost of water, and institutional capacity – to name just a few.

Our guide lays out detailed instructions on motivating internal teams in mining companies to identify and work with local stakeholders, clarifying their concerns around water basin management. It also provides helpful tips on undertaking effective, engaging consultations with stakeholders to ensure that best practices are implemented.

The benefits of this approach
Adopting a catchment approach is beneficial to both mining companies and the communities in which it is used.

It brings transparency to water decisions – allowing local stakeholders, as well as local businesses, to have a say in how water resources are managed. It also provides accountability, while ensuring that inclusive engagement is taking place throughout the process. This in turn allows all participants to mitigate risk in the water basin, and hence:

  • improve the management of the system
  • provide meaningful information that supports more effective water use and catchment management
  • contribute to improvements in water security and sanitation for all stakeholders.

 Accountability through water reporting
Another key element of our approach to water stewardship is effective water reporting, accountability and auditing. As competition for water continues to grow, water-dependent industries such as mining are under intense scrutiny, especially when operating in water-stressed areas, necessitating a greater need for greater transparency around water use.

There has been much progress on water reporting, measurable outputs, data accumulation and disclosure through numerous existing water reporting standards –including CDP, CEO Water Mandate and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) . Already, our members – accounting for around a third of global mining activity – report on one or more of these. However, they do not fully take into account the industry’s specific material water practices, nuances and risks.

ICMM recognises that the sector needs to do more to meet disclosure expectations, and we have therefore collaborated with a range of stakeholders to develop a minimum disclosure standard – reporting against which is now mandatory for our member companies. By publicly reporting how much water the industry uses, mining companies can become more accountable to stakeholders, while supporting and encouraging a more sustainable and equitable approach to the management of global water resources.

Our guidance is also a vital tool in tracking how the mining industry is helping to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG6 on clean water and sanitation.