Tuesday, 25 June 2013

"How Green is My Quarry?"

That may sound like an oxymoronic question, but it was actually a paper presented in 2005 by Richard Bate of Green Balance at the Institute of Quarrying’s annual conference. Judging by the various campaigns across the country, the image of quarrying has changed little since, and the paper seems as relevant today. It initially poses the question:
A quarry is not everyone’s favourite neighbour. Why not? Changing the public perception of quarrying requires an answer to this question. Is the activity inherently detrimental to neighbours, or can quarrying be managed in a way that avoids adverse effects? If impact is inevitable, how can this best be addressed? In short, is it the perception that is wrong, or the quarrying, or both?... This paper comments briefly on what more the quarrying industry can do to present itself as ‘part of’ the modern life that people want, not ‘apart from’ that modern life. An essential first requirement is that the industry should strive to operate ‘green quarries’...
The paper deals with a number of important issues; here's an excerpt:
Badly restored sites that can be seen in some places today are not a good advertisement for modern quarrying capabilities. Companies may be able to demonstrate that modern sites can control these problems, but while the historical legacy is still all too plain for people to see they will start their engagement with the public on the back foot. An important message is for the industry as a whole to get to grips with its own inherited messy land. The planning system could do more than it does to force the hand of some businesses, but the central imperative should be voluntarily to improve the industry’s image.
Taking millions of tonnes of material out of the ground cannot, of course, be done without having real effects on the environment. Nonetheless, the impact of development can be reduced by design. Steps can be take to ameliorate some of the impact. Environmental compensation can be provided by creating new environmental benefits elsewhere to make up for some of the losses.The quality of what is there at present can be enhanced. Attractive new land uses can be provided in place of the ones that were there beforehand. Alternative benefits can be offered to buy favour with those who are still inevitably affected. But both the quarrying process and the end result are still likely to involve something distinctly different from what was there in the first place. Even with all these good works, the industry will still have to persuade everyone that the changes to what was there beforehand are ‘worth it’ for extracting the mineral which society needs. To achieve that persuasion at least two things must be done. A sound technical case for the proposals will have to be demonstrated, and it must be entirely clear that the operations will definitely be handled in the way they are promised. In other words, the industry (and not just individual companies) must show itself to be trustworthy, to understand what worries people, and to be able to deliver on its promises.
The paper concludes by saying:
The minerals industry has always had to ask the public for a social ‘licence to operate’. That is very different from obtaining planning permissions on the basis of a technically sound case. If the industry does not get on the right side of the public then it will be mired in opposition and distrust. This will wash off on the industry’s social standing, then recruitment, profitability, staff morale and investor confidence. There is no need to take the dead-end route; go for the socially responsible alternative. That way just about everybody wins.
An evenhanded paper that all concerned - proponents and objectors - would do well to read.