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At Implats, our stated purpose is to create a better future, and we seek to do so in a way that reflects our values – to respect, care and deliver. As one of the world’s foremost platinum group metals (PGMs) producers, our sustainability journey demonstrates just one aspect of our deep commitment to achieving our purpose.

Each day’s news brings ever-more glaring examples of how climate change is impacting the world. Extreme weather events are becoming the norm and the imperative to lower carbon emissions, and treat water as the precious resource it is, has never been more urgent.

Climate change is a global challenge. It requires all businesses to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the value chain, to build operational and asset portfolio resilience, and ensure transparent communication and engagement with stakeholders. 

Decarbonisation and energy security targets are embedded in our multi-billion rand, multi-year capital investment programme, which will extend the life of our operations, increase southern Africa’s beneficiation capacity, and progress Implats towards achieving its decarbonisation ambitions. Importantly, each of our renewable energy projects and initiatives includes a social impact contribution to ensure the just transition. 

Our Zimbabwean operation, Zimplats, is midway through constructing a US$37m solar plant. The 35MW facility is the first phase of an intended 185MW complex that will secure supply and reduce the unit cost of energy, with the first phase due to go live this year. This is the first large-scale project towards meeting our short-term (2030) decarbonisation target of a 30% reduction against the 2019 baseline, and it supports our stated ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Zimplats currently sources 67% of its energy from regional hydro-electric facilities and this proportion will grow as the first phase of the solar programme feeds into the grid. 

We are also advancing feasibility studies at our Impala Rustenburg (140MW) and Marula (30MW) operations with a view to building solar facilities to further improve our carbon footprint. These are taking place in parallel to our programme to procure wheeled renewable electricity for all our South African operations — wheeling is the process of moving privately generated electricity (own-generated or generated by independent power producers) to customers across national utility-owned power grids. Meanwhile, our Impala Refineries operation is undertaking conceptual studies for a combined heat and power project to eliminate coal use. Our Canadian operation’s grid-supplied energy is already 100% renewable, sourced from hydropower schemes. 

Our commitment is that all new mines will have at least 30% renewable energy, and each operation with at least five years of life-of-mine remaining will have a renewable energy source by 2025. This will ensure the Group progressively increases its renewable energy mix to 73% by 2030. 

As technology readiness improves, zero-carbon fuels and offsets will play a role in the later stages of our journey to achieving carbon neutrality. The Group is already testing, under realistic load conditions, a 1.5kW hydrogen fuel cell.  

The emerging hydrogen economy is an exciting development — and the metals we produce are key to this growing market. Hydrogen is used to produce electricity, power vehicles, and store and transport zero- and low-carbon energy, and it will play an important and targeted role in the world’s future energy mix. The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, between 10% to 20% of future energy supply will be sourced directly from hydrogen and e-fuels. 

Researchers across the globe are investigating, developing and testing technologies to improve the viability and commercial scalability of “green” hydrogen production — green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, making it a zero-carbon fuel source. 

Extreme weather events caused by carbon-fuelled climate change, while highlighting the urgent need to reduce GHGs, have simultaneously laid bare the global vulnerabilities related to water —  recurrent flooding in some regions, persistent drought in others. By using data to understand our impact, and the impact of resource scarcity and climate change, we can better understand our vulnerabilities and risks, and implement pragmatic, results-driven models within appropriate timeframes, all within rigorous governance and reporting frameworks. This is a powerful foundation for positive social impact. 

The private sector, and mining companies in particular, have been able to make an extraordinary contribution to socio-economic development in rural areas, including development related to ensuring efficient water reuse and adequate water supply. 

Our southern African operations are located in water-scarce regions. In managing our own water needs, we also address supply constraints in vulnerable host communities through major infrastructure projects and we continue to focus on alleviating water shortages. We work with municipalities and schools to improve water conservation and climate change awareness. We assist with strategic regional planning and local service provision, and work with local stakeholders to address immediate needs and ensure that bulk infrastructure is maintained and long-term planning is in place. At the same time, we work tirelessly to improve our internal water use – our goal is to ensure that 70% of the water we consume is recycled and reused water  by 2030, and our efforts in water risk management have earned us an “A” rating from the CDP Water Disclosure Project.

Implats is an active member in two long-term water infrastructure public-private-partnership projects with other commercial water users — the Olifants Management Model and the Rustenburg Water Services Trust. These projects will supply bulk water to adjacent communities along the pipeline and allow for non-potable water offtake agreements for commercial users.

The Rustenburg Water Services Trust partnership, in particular, has realised several benefits: secured supplies for mining, increased freshwater availability, and improvements in downstream water quality through better wastewater treatment. The partnership inspired a World Bank case study, which concluded: “The Rustenburg case proves that relatively small and financially weak municipalities can raise significant funding through well-structured projects with strong revenue streams from private sources,” and that “… there is high potential for replication in areas where industry has a stake in improving outcomes.”

We believe partnerships such as these represent a powerful tool to tackle water scarcity and challenges associated with water management, and where their success has been demonstrated they should be championed, embraced, and scaled.

More broadly, we believe businesses must play an active role in finding solutions to societal challenges. The private sector must be committed to promoting sustainable social and economic transformation through constructive collaboration with its stakeholders. We work with our partners in business, the government, labour and local communities to build an inclusive economy that provides opportunities for social mobility, facilitated by equitable access to jobs, education and health. 

Implats takes seriously its duty to protect the natural environment in which we operate, mitigate our environmental impacts by retaining fauna and flora, rehabilitate land disturbed by our operations, ensuring responsible waste management and the prudent use of water and energy. Ensuring the social, economic and environmental viability of our host communities and the broader economies in which we operate is critical to demonstrating our values and achieving our purpose. DM

Author: Dr Tsakani Mthombeni, Executive: Sustainable Development, Implats.


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