In conversation with Anglo American’s Samantha Hoe-Richardson

edie talks to mining giant Anglo-American's head of sustainable development & energy Samantha Hoe-Richardson on the importance of demonstrating that "green equals efficient and resilient" and that sustainability professionals must get connected with the commercial challenges facing a business and the people dealing with them.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

In our business we have a good understanding and belief in the strategic relevance of sustainability issues. Our challenge is to make sustainability integral to our day-to-day activities. We are currently rolling out an integrated risk management programme across Anglo American. This is a great opportunity to help our people understand the business risks posed by sustainability issues and what they need to do on a day-to-day basis to effectively manage those risks.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

Across a variety of industries, certainly in the western world, we have witnessed a breakdown in trust between business and society. Furthermore, in developing countries governments often lack the capacity to deliver the services to meet the growing expectations of their people. Companies in future will have to think about their role in society beyond job creation and paying taxes, royalties and dividends.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

Short termism. There is a natural tendency in people to think short term, which can be frustrating when your world is the management of long term risks which are often hard to quantify. But that is starting to change and people are seeing how sustainability risks rank just as highly as short term risks.

What motivates you?

Engaging with people to deliver tangible benefits in the business, which make a real and lasting difference. Outcomes matter.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Working for a mining company with a large developing country footprint brings with it many exciting challenges and opportunities to make a real difference

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

Fuel cells. I have to say it as they use platinum, one of the metals Anglo American mines. Fuel cells I believe can play a key role in the low carbon economy. They can be used to power vehicles and they do not need to be plugged into the mains overnight. With their high efficiency they can also play a role in power generation, in particular with renewable energy. Because fuel cells can store energy they can be used to match the output of intermittent technologies, such as wind energy, with demand.

What’s the big focus in 2013 for the environment?

Continuing to drive forward on our energy, carbon and water savings programmes – they save money – and ensuring environment risks are captured in the roll-out of our integrated risk management programme. It’s about delivering better outcomes for our shareholders and the environment

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

Get yourself connected with the commercial challenges facing a business and the people dealing with them. Making sustainability issues core business is how you make a difference. My first priority in my current role was to help people in our business see the opportunity of saving energy, carbon and water to save money and give them simple tools to get the results. This helps to build credibility

What do you like most about your job?

I love my job because of the range of people I get to meet. Our directors are very engaged around the sustainability agenda and so I get frequent opportunities to interact with them. Equally, I get to meet people in our mines to understand the realities they are facing. Many tell me how their kids are learning about sustainability issues at school and are coming home and asking about them

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

I’m sorry I can honestly say that there isn’t one!

What do you think 2013 has in store for the green economy?

With the challenging economic times, it may be hard to sustain the belief. It’s about demonstrating that green equals efficient and resilient

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?

I would go back to Victorian times. The fact that we are still reliant on some infrastructure built by the Victorians is testament to their vision

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

That I persuaded our Zimele enterprise development programme to establish a $14 million Green Fund to support green entrepreneurs in South Africa

If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?

William Wilberforce, who lead the movement to abolish the slave trade. He was from Hull, where my family live

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Do not equate motion with progress

Worst advice?

I was advised not to apply for my current position because of my lack of a sustainability background

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

Encourage people to tell their own stories. Recently, on World Environment Day we asked our employees to complete the phrase “The environment matters to me because…” and illustrate it with a photo. The response was overwhelming and inspiring. Reasons ranged from the need to protect native species, enjoying the natural world through leisure activities and preserving it for their families to continue to enjoy into the future.

What state do you see the planet in in 30 years?

Ask the scientists!

What do you say to the climate change sceptics?

The bulk of scientists appear to agree that climate change is being caused by human activity. Given the consequences, is it really worth taking the chance that they might be wrong?

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

In 2012, ECO2MAN, our energy and carbon saving programme delivered cost savings of $75 million and reduced our emissions by 3.3 million tonnes of CO2

If there was one word you could remove from the English language what would it be?

Should. Hindsight is a clever thing but you cannot change the past. Instead make positive choices for a better future

Books or kindle?

Sorry but it is books. The excitement you feel when turning a page cannot be replicated by a Kindle

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