Sibanye-Stillwater has introduced a target of zero carbon by 2040, which is consistent with its core ESG strategic priority

Sibanye-Stillwater, a leading international precious-metals mining company with operations in the US and Southern Africa, is the world’s largest primary producer of platinum and rhodium, and the second-largest primary producer of palladium. The company also ranks third on a gold-equivalent basis for its gold production, and contributes significantly to other PGM supply such as iridium and ruthenium as well as by-products that include chrome, copper and nickel. Sibanye-Stillwater is also one of the world’s leading recyclers of PGMs through its Columbus arm in the US, which contributes to global carbon-neutrality targets.

The group is also concerned with environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts associated with its mining operations, with its already existing ESG principles playing a core part in all decision-making and actions.

‘We call it “embedding ESG excellence” in the way we do business,’ says CEO Neal Froneman. ‘This is not a new strategy per se because ESG credentials have always been core to our existence given that they are necessary to sustain a licence to operate, as well as to maintain a strong investment rating.’

Embedding ESG excellence is just one of six key focus areas that Sibanye-Stillwater is using to drive value-creation. The others are building a value-based culture; focusing on safe production and operational excellence; optimising capital allocation; prospering in SA’s investment climate; and pursuing value-accretive growth based on a strengthened equity rating.

Sibanye-Stillwater is aiming to ensure that, by 2025, 30% of its workforce comprises women

Optimising capital allocation is particularly pertinent, following a record financial performance achieved in 2020. Sibanye-Stillwater found itself in a net-cash position at end of year, enabling the payment of an industry-leading dividend of more than R10 billion, which is equivalent to its market cap when the company listed in 2013. The group is positioned for even better results for 2021.

This strong financial performance has enabled the group to approve investment of approximately R63 billion across three projects in SA. These high-quality projects will ensure further sustainability of the business in the country and deliver significant value to all stakeholders.

In addition to the capital investment and resulting economic value and opportunities for local communities that will be delivered, approximately 7 000 jobs will be created. The outlook for the commodities Sibanye-Stillwater produces is extremely positive, which will ensure other opportunities for the company to create further value for its stakeholders.

One such opportunity is through the hydrogen economy, where PGMs are likely to be essential catalytic components for new, green technologies, including for fuel cells, electrolysers and renewable-energy generation. These technologies will contribute to mitigating climate change and, for Sibanye-Stillwater, they will ensure that the company is at the forefront of green technologies and setting ESG benchmarks for others to match.

Last year the Columbus plant in Montana, one of the largest recycling facilities in the US, produced 840 000 3E (platinum, palladium, rhodium) oz from spent auto catalysts. This world-class recycling facility emits 6x less tons of carbon per PGM and utilises 63x less water than normal mining operations producing similar amounts of PGMs. The facility is also the lowest emitter of SO2 globally. ‘These are very smart and environmentally friendly processes,’ says Froneman. ‘And they all speak to our advocacy for decarbonisation.’

‘We are also serious about energy efficiency where we intend to achieve 2% to 3% year-on-year energy improvements in our operations, ultimately to reach a target of having 20% of energy sourced from renewables like solar and wind by 2030.’

Safe production and operational excellence is yet another strategic priority at Sibanye-Stillwater, although, by Froneman’s own admission, 2020 was a difficult year, having to assess and adapt to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic without compromising safe production.

‘We’ve had to reorganise teams and that in turn leads to complex behavioural issues. But with the return to operational stability we are re-establishing the good safety record we had prior to the COVID disruptions.’

Sibanye-Stillwater’s journey towards a values-based culture also means it is focused on gender equality, targeting to have 30% of its 80 000-plus workforce female by 2025. Froneman is voluntarily championing women through the Minerals Council South Africa’s Women in Mining initiative. This demonstrates how Sibanye-Stillwater’s leadership is immersed in ESG, which is also aligned to its new leadership architecture.

‘Designed obviously to enhance the performance of the company, this architecture ensures we are future-ready for the strategy and growth we see unfolding in the not-too-distant future,’ says Froneman.

The company is one of the leading recyclers of PGMs globally

‘The strategic leadership we embrace is in line with the stratified systems theory, which indicates the level of complexity at which a person can effectively function. This in turn has led us to embrace holacracy, which has provided autonomy, agility and purpose alignment so that we always remain an evolving learning and leading organisation.’

Sibanye-Stillwater is also progressing along the journey to zero harm by addressing real risk, infrastructure, rock-mass management and engineering safety. ‘We are empowering our people with knowledge around safety culture and behaviour. We are also enabling systems that bring about best practice to ensure risk reduction.’

Froneman has a firm stance on risk and safety. ‘We do not accept that our labour-intensive operating environment may be an inhibitor to world-class safety performance. Nor will we reduce risk by closing operations; that in my mind is a cop-out and will have significant unintended consequences for the many people we employ.

‘Our performance over the past year has proven how well we respond to commodity volatility and uncertainties,’ he adds. ‘We believe the products we produce are making a difference – socially, economically and environmentally – because the real value isn’t just in what we produce, but how we do it.’

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