Did I hear correctly? I am sitting in the local shire council offices participating in a coastcare coordinators meeting and we get onto the topic of future seminars. I think I almost chocked when it was explained to me that Professor Richard Hobbs (2011 WA Scientist of the Year) was presenting the idea that perhaps we should be planting species in our restoration projects that are more likely to cope with the rapid climate changes in the future (i.e. not local provenance species). This took me by surprise. It goes against all that I have been taught, which is basically that local provenance species should be used in restoration projects.
In mining, our Mine Closure Plans often refer to collecting, storing and using the seed of local provenance species for rehabilitating disturbed areas. If this new way of thinking is correct then we should be planning on rehabilitating post-mining areas with species that are better adapted to a warming climate? These post-mining landscapes may serve as islands of contingency (supporting species that are more likely to survive in the local area as the climate changes, and in areas where the local species are not expected to survive or be able to adapt quickly enough).
However, what are the risks? If we use the same species (but from locations considered not local), then cross-pollination of introduced plants with naturally occurring local provenance plants may result in any number of problems – weedy species, weaker populations, not to mention dramatic changes in community composition and structure.
Debate around the issue above is very healthy amongst the scientific community. It challenges the way scientists think about current best pratice in restoration given the rapid changes in climate. However, as a group consisting of practitioners, government and regulators, we are challenged as to which advice and direction to take. The question that comes to my mind is how much time do we have to debate such issues?
The coexistence of those with environmental interests and those with mining interests is often perceived to be like “chalk and cheese.” While that may have been the case 10 years ago, it is no longer the case now. Australians naturally have very strong connections with their environment – our beaches, our small country towns surrounded by natural areas, our climate and our unique flora and fauna. Protecting our way of life and the values associated with being Australian and a lover of the great outdoors coincides with looking after our countryside, our beaches, our outback. So, there is no reason why this connection wouldn’t extend into the workplace and thus there is no reason why there should be a conflict.
Factors that may influence that conclusion may include:
- the remote locations of the workplace in comparison to the home location and therefore a disconnect with the outdoor values associated with being at home; and
- the male-dominated nature of the workforce (an average of 19% female within the mining industry in Western Australia, 2012).
Building an environmental culture within a mining company isn’t easy. The transient nature of the Australian mining workforce and the short-term nature of project construction adds to the difficulty. It is also worthy to note that this is a long-term initiative and will likely take at least five years to see results.
If an industry-wide approach to building an environmental culture was taken then the positive outcomes from such programs would be observed much sooner.
There is such a positive arguement for implementing a culture-building program:
- the budget requirements for such a program can be minimal;
- reduces risk of impacts to the environment;
- involving the broader workforce encourages diversity of ideas; and
- an environmental culture extends beyond the mine site and into homes and our way of life.
Support and endorsement by the senior management team is critical to its success. While an environmental culture-building program can be implemented without the directive of senior management, the success of any program within a mining company is very much dependent on a top-down approach.
Internal culture-building programs can be developed by:
- provision of information;
- environment-themed activities; and
- employee involvement to facilitate decision-making that extends beyond the formal environment teams.
Examples of such initiatives are provided below.
Provision of information:
- weekly newsletters (email and posted in tea rooms);
- prompts for recylcing waste, energy (e.g. turning off computer screens) and water usage;
- environmental-themed calenders.
- celebrating and reflecting on significant dates (earth day, world environment day);
- tree planting.
- green committee’s at all facilities and implementation of their intiatives to reduce and recycle waste, increase energy efficiencies, and reduce water efficiency.
- competitions (going beyond compliance, nature photo competition for annual calender).
- developing “environmental representative” programs and involvement for those that dont have a formal environmental education.
Please send me any ideas or initiatives that you have implemented. I’d be keen to hear what you are doing and how you measure success of the program.
This application of science is one that I am very, very excited about……
Biomimicry is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems (referenced from Wikipedia).
Janine Benyus presents a nice summary of biomimicry on Ted.com, and the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, as well as, the Biomimicry Institute’s AskNature website provides some great examples.
Nature has produced prototypes over millions of years. Their success or failure has been determined by natural selection. In economic terms, the evolution of these prototypes equates to trillions of dollars. No company could afford to undergo the same rigorous process undertaken by nature thus making it understandable that human engineered structures are no match in comparison and not sustainable. These successful biological prototypes have no patent, and are freely available. Let’s look at some examples from AskNature (http://www.asknature.org/browse):
- The desert-dwelling Namibian beetle (Stenocara gracilipes) obtains the water it needs to survive from ocean fog due to the surface of its forewings, which are covered in microscopic bumps with hydrophilic (water attracting) tips and hydrophobic (water repelling) sides. The beetle’s forewings are aimed at oncoming fog and as a result water droplets condense on its back and slide down channels into its mouth. Synthetic surfaces mimicking the beetle’s back have been created that are several times more effective than existing fog-catching nets, and could be used to generate clean freshwater supplies in arid regions, refugee camps, and at the tops of skyscrapers. These require no pumping.
Waste Management/ Bioremediation
- The fern Pteris vittata can tolerate 100 to 1,000 times more arsenic than other plants. An arsenic pump of sorts takes the arsenic from the soil and stores it in the fronds in the fern. A protein, which acts as the pump, encoded by [an isolated] gene ends up in the membrane of the plant cell’s vacuole. The protein moves arsenic into the cell’s equivalent of a rubbish bin and stores it away from the cytoplasm so that it can’t have an effect on the plant. The application of this species ability to move and store arsenic could lead to ways to clean up arsenic-contaminated land. (ScienceDaily 2010)
- Conventional silicon-based solar panels capture, separate, and transport light energy in one highly-purified material whose manufacture requires large amounts of energy, toxic solvents, and bulky infrastructure to support rigid panels. Plant-inspired solar cells mimic photosynthetic dyes and processes to generate solar energy many times more cheaply than silicon-based photovoltaics. In addition, they have the flexibility to be integrated with a building outer-layer. These dye-sensitive solar cells use a variety of photo-sensitive dyes and common, flexible materials that can be incorporated into architectural elements such as window panes, building paints, or textiles. Although traditional silicon-based photovoltaic solar cells currently have higher solar energy conversion ratios, dye-sensitive solar cells have higher overall power collection potential due to low-cost operability under a wider range of light and temperature conditions, and flexible application. The organism that inspired this technology, Kokia cookei O. Deg., is a hibiscus, which is native to Hawaii and has an IUCN red list status of “extinct in the wild”.
It is becoming increasingly more evident that the mining industry needs to become more:
- energy efficient,
- water efficient, and
- reduce and recycle waste.
As described above, the use of biomimicry may help us to achieve these outcomes. Given the enormous library of organisms on this planet, I believe nature’s potential is yet to be unleashed. Countries, industries and individual companies that invest in research and development programs have proven to have a competitive advantage. We’ve only to look at India and China’s R&D programs as examples. This exciting area of science is shown to provide some answers and would definately be a worthwhile investment.
REPORTING The annual Sustainability Report must be more than a glossy booklet filled with feel-good stories. The report is a statement to external stakeholders on the performance of the company that should: Satisfy the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standard criteria at a … Continue reading