MAC: Mines and Communities

Letter No. 3.

Published by MAC on 2004-08-15

Letter No. 3.

Dear Marcus,

Although much of the focus of conservation organizations during the 20th century was on 'protection', we know that the real challenge for the future lies in developing a sustainable relationship between people and the environment. The range of stakeholders encompasses the entire, global, social spectrum including indigenous peoples. Conservation must become fully integrated into social, political and economic processes, not kept in an isolated 'box'. Failure will result in the continued erosion of the natural resources on which we are all dependent.

You refer to protected areas though, somewhat contradictorily, you downgrade their importance whilst also prioritising their integrity. Let me re-emphasise the value of different approaches here. While pressure groups may focus on keeping companies out of protected areas, partnership NGOs work with companies to address their operational impact across their geographic footprint, not just within the small percentage of the earth's surface designated as protected. We need both.

Working with leadership companies that can influence their sectors is strategically wise - they are key players in developing the very standards and norms that you say you want to see in place. And remember that companies which are committed to social and environmental reporting, which endeavour to build partnerships with NGOs and civil society, and which develop and implement improved practices, are actually just the tip of the corporate iceberg. They are the recognisable names above the waterline - publicly traded and branded. If, due to public pressure, the 'BPs and Rio Tintos' pull out rather than working through issues and setting new standards, they may be swiftly replaced by companies which are far less accountable and have no public reputation to risk.

Just a few years ago, conservation issues never reached the boardroom agenda unless a short-term, emergency response was needed. Environmental policies were about retrospective crisis management, only undertaken when matters came to a head and damage had been done. We recognised the need for an alternative.

Today, as you note with reference to 'First', FFI and other partnership-focussed organisations have secured the commitment of influential companies to recognise conservation not just as a risk-limitation response but rather as a core business issue to be mainstreamed into strategy and operations.

Through partnership, we can move from remedy to prevention.


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