In addition to working to improve the borate business, the company is also working to measure and improve its social, environmental and economic performance through its commitment to sustainable development. “We need to consider how our practices and products contribute to society, the environment and the economy as a whole to ensure sustained success,” Chiaro says. “We can’t have profits suffer at the expense of the other two – we need to find the right balance. A single mine can’t be sustainable, so we have to figure out how we as a mining company can contribute to society’s sustainability.”
“The final standard we must raise, and the standard under which we must all unite, is that of social responsibility,” Peever says. “Sustainable development is a widely used and imperfectly understood catch phrase for social responsibility. At Borax, we’ve spent the last two years exploring sustainable development – or the framework we use to weigh the social, environmental and economic consequences of our decisions. Our ongoing quest is to measure, improve and report on how the company’s practices and products contribute to a sustainable future.”
The company’s sustainable development initiative was launched in 2000 as a case study of how a mining company could measure and improve its contribution to sustainable development, widely defined as development that meets the needs of the present generation without undermining future generations’ abilities to meet theirs.
Borax dedicated significant resources to launching the program – assigning 25 employees who represented five different nationalities and tenures that ranged from one to 30 years with the company to the task. The team developed a system to capture Borax’s current performance against five basic objectives – to protect health and safety, to enhance human potential, to efficiently manage resources and the environment, to contribute to economies and to produce sustainable products – and to develop improvement targets and projects against each of these objectives. The program has since been integrated into all aspects of the business.
“Borax has been able to achieve and maintain market leadership over the years only through constant innovation and improvement of its product quality, supply reliability and technical support – the hallmarks of its service offerings,” Peever says. “With softer global economies, moderate growth in traditional borate markets, and rising global capacity for refined borates, the company faces increasing pressure to deliver value to its customers. At the same time, we must balance this imperative with our responsibilities to other audiences – from the people who live near our operations to those who shape public opinion and policy around the world.”
Borax’s commitment to environmental stewardship starts at its global operations – which are all ISO14000 certified – and carries through its innovation program, developing applications that offer environmental benefits in their ultimate use. For example, borates in fiberglass and ceramics offer energy savings to consumers and manufacturers; borates in fertilizers increase crop yields; and borate-based wood preservatives decrease the need to harvest additional trees to replace the wood destroyed by insects or decay.
“World-class environmental performance is essential,” Chiaro says. “We are among the safest and most environmentally responsible mining companies, and at the forefront of efforts to demonstrate how mining is compatible with sustainable development. We use energy-efficient methods to minimize our use of natural resources and lower our emissions.”
While Borax is helping to protect the environment in its neighboring communities, it also works to make a positive economic impact on the community itself. The company tries to use local vendors for goods and services when possible, and also works with community and government leaders to support programs that address issues the community believes are important.
“We try to work with the community and local government to develop skills and resources that can help the community become self-sustaining,” Chiaro says. “We want to promote mutual respect, active partnership, and long-term commitment in our relationships with local communities.”
Dr. Elaine Dorward-King, Borax’s global executive of the environment, health and safety, led the group of employees who worked on the project. “California has been our home base for more than a century – from shovel operators to regulators, people can tell you more about our history than our future,” she says. “The challenge that we’ve begun to address with the Borax Sustainable Development Project is to create a cultural shift that transitions that focus from the company as it exists today or yesterday, to the business as it exists within a larger social and environmental network in the years to come.”