Speaker Spotlight: Dr Deborah Shields

23 January 2019

Dr Deborah Shields’ presentation at SDIMI 2019 is titled: Trends in Social License to Operate: the North American experience


Dr Deborah J. Shields received a Ph.D. is a Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Economics at Colorado State University and a Visiting Professor at the Polytechnic University of Turin, IT, in the Department of Land, Environment and Infrastructure Engineering. Deborah previously worked for the US Government, first with the US Bureau of Mines and later with the U.S. Forest Service, Research and Development Division. In the latter position she directed the agency’s mineral policy research program. Her research foci are minerals in sustainable development, mineral policy, and integrated sustainability assessments. Dr Shields has led or worked on research for, and been a consultant to, the European Commission and the US government.

We recently asked Dr Shields some questions about her upcoming keynote presentation at SDIMI 2019, and the importance of the conference to the mining industry.

How significant is AusIMM’s SDIMI conference for the mining industry?

The SDIMI conferences have historically represented opportunities for sustainability practitioners in the minerals industry to share their practical experiences and debate how to move the field forward. One of the most important aspects of these conferences has been the dialogue among speakers and attendees in the sessions, as well as during social events. The conferences are significant because they advance the field of sustainability in mining and minerals through a process of shared learning and conclusions.

What are you most looking forward to about SDIMI 2019?

The conference theme of social license is both timely and critical. Stable, prosperous, healthy and equitable societies and economies require minerals, but mineral extraction is increasingly controversial. It will be very interesting to learn more about concepts such as minerals in the circular economy, supply chain management, and shared value creation, and both how they are linked to corporate social responsibility and how they can support social license to operate.

Can you provide an insight into what your keynote presentation will cover?

My presentation deals with the history and embrace of the concept of social license in North America, herein limited to Canada and the United States. There are clear differences between the two countries, including the perception of the importance or even legitimacy of the sustainability paradigm and the rights of indigenous peoples. There are also differences between sectors of the industry (e.g., coal versus gold) and major versus junior firms. An additional complicating issue is the need for social license in other resource sectors such as oil and gas, forestry, and fisheries. Communities of interest to mining not infrequently also interact with these other industries and observe the actions they (do or don’t) take to gain and maintain social license. I will address these complexities and identify trends that have the potential to be mutually supportive between the two countries and amongst the resource sectors.


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