Social licence to operate is not a new concept for the mining industry, referring to stakeholder approval or acceptance for the activities and impacts of a project, company or industry. It is intangible, dynamic and non-permanent, hence it needs to be earned and then maintained (Thomson and Boutilier, 2014). It has also been argued that social licence extends beyond building approval or acceptance, into engagement for long-term development (Owen and Kemp, 2012).
There are many examples where stakeholder opposition – or withdrawal of social licence – have increased capital and operating costs, extended schedules and impacted reputation. At its extreme, the withdrawal of social licence to operate can also contribute to or be the catalyst for mine closure.
The key benefit of obtaining a social licence is a reduction of risk. Stakeholder support and advocacy, as well as the implementation of social performance programs that contribute to social licence, can be beneficial in terms of schedule, costs and other benefits.
While decisions to close a mine are generally driven by resource availability or economic conditions, the social, economic and environmental legacy remaining post-closure is of importance to many stakeholders. With a number of significant mines now approaching closure within Australia, we are seeing heightened community concern about the economic and social impact of mine closure and the success of land rehabilitation. So how does the concept of social licence to operate extend into the closure phase of the mining life cycle?
Braithwaite, J A, 2016. Social licence to close?, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2016 Conference, pp 176–179 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).