Towards Zero Water

Goldcorp’s 10-year goal is to eliminate water consumption from mine sites

A photo of Lisa Wade, vice-president of environment at Goldcorp Inc.

Lisa Wade, vice-president of environment at Goldcorp Inc., is tasked with leading the Toward Zero Water initiative. — Photo courtesy Goldcorp Inc.

Goldcorp Inc. is changing the way mining companies address sustainability with its Towards Zero Water (H2Zero) initiative. The long-term target of the initiative is to eliminate the consumption of water at its mines or consume as close to zero water as technology allows.

Although the goal appears far-fetched with current technology, Goldcorp is dedicated. “It might not be probable, but if we could figure out in the next 10 years how to crush and grind rock without using water and to leave mine dewatering water in the ground, those would be the last remaining things we have to figure out,” said Lisa Wade, vice-president of environment at Goldcorp. “The technology for that does not exist right now, but it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t.”

Environmental stewardship within Goldcorp

Wade began working for Goldcorp in 2005 as an environmental director based in Central America. She was promoted to her current position in 2015. Now she works primarily out of the company's Vancouver offices, although she travels to Goldcorp mine sites about 25 per cent of the time.

Wade has always valued environmental stewardship. “I’m compelled to try to make the industry better from an environmental point of view from the inside,” she said. “I influence as much as I can from the inside.” While at a mine, Wade works from a role of mentorship or governance. She either ensures that all Goldcorp entities are complying with internal standards or lends her technical expertise. “I try to help environmental professionals who are working at the mine sites navigate their challenges,” she said.

In the office, Wade’s duties cover governance, mentoring, training, technical support, connections with other executives and the board of directors, information flow within the company, and environmental leadership. “I’m constantly pushing all areas of our mining company to perform better from an environmental point of view,” she said. “I’m trying to create a shared vision between people and departments, and inspire them, and get them excited about doing things better environmentally on a continuous basis.”

The origin of H2Zero

Goldcorp’s CEO David Garofalo tasked Wade with leading the H2Zero initiative. Garofalo coined the term Towards Zero Water at the company's three-day sustainability summit in early 2016. “We had quite a few people from the company come to one location to talk about sustainability issues,” Wade said.

Garofalo, new to the company at the time, listened with fresh ears to the sustainability problems Goldcorp hoped to solve. “He observed that the real common denominator across all the things we were grappling with was water,” said Wade. The problem of water permeated across all areas of the company, so he quickly concluded that water is the critical issue to focus on.

Even though aiming for zero water consumption isn’t technically possible or feasible yet, Goldcorp wants to shoot high. It is simultaneously working on multiple areas of the problem.

First, Goldcorp defined the cost of water at a given mine site. “How much does it cost to move a drop of water around a site? And how much water are we moving around a site? It turns out that it’s a lot. The information was there all along, but it made us look in a new light,” said Wade. “We actually move more water than ore.” Wade thought that if Goldcorp could demonstrate the cost of water, it could get everyone on board to conserve it.

Meanwhile, Goldcorp’s in-house technology team is working on the technology necessary to reach the Towards Zero Water goal. They are also working with universities, vendors and consulting companies to find cost-effective, large-scale solutions.

The largest challenge to overcome is the water used to crush and grind ore. “If we could figure out a way to crush and grind ore without using water, that would be spectacular,” Wade said. “That technology is far away, but we have people who are looking into that through preliminary investigations with universities.”

Goldcorp is also working on eliminating water from tailings through its Eco-Tails Research program. The technology of dewatering tailings already exists, but its applications have been limited to small-scale operations because the cost interferes when scaling the technology up to large mines. The scaled-up technology is on the horizon for completion in less than 10 years. “I think that would be a major breakthrough for our company and the industry,” said Wade.

Coming together for H2Zero

Goldcorp employees have come together under the Toward Zero Water initiative. “To hear the CEO tell employees of our large company that Toward Zero Water is of utmost importance, that gets people excited,” said Wade.

The internal engagement spans between offices and mine sites. One of the requirements Goldcorp made when it began this initiative was that every mine site must have at least one Toward Zero Water project in its budget beginning in 2017.

All mine sites have received ideas from staff about ways to save water. Working together, Goldcorp employees have the opportunity to creatively brainstorm ways to reach their goal.

Although Towards Zero Water sits on a far horizon, Goldcorp sets a positive example in the mining industry by working towards increased sustainability.

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