Deirdré Lingenfelder, head of safety and sustainable development of the
De Beers Group, on conflict-free gems, protecting the environment and
the importance of post-mining programmes 



Q: The company’s operating philosophy is ‘Building Forever’. What does that mean in practical terms?
A: At De Beers, the concept of ‘building forever’ describes our commitment to driving positive change across the diamond industry and creating a lasting legacy in the communities where we function. We are proud that diamond revenues play a part in their development.

Q: Your Good to Great (G2G) sustainability framework runs until 2018. What does the company hope to achieve within the next two years of the programme?
The G2G framework, launched in 2013, was based on discussions across our operations and aimed at defining our priorities moving forward. It includes a focus on risks, controls, incidents and action management. We call this our ‘back to basics’ approach.

We have seen a significant improvement in our sustainability performance over recent years, and in 2017 we’ll unpack what it means to be a ‘future fit’ business – looking at our sustainability challenges and ensuring that we operate in a manner today that maintains consumer confidence in our product tomorrow.

Q: De Beers hadn’t had an operational fatality for several years until 2016. What do you put that down to?
After four years fatality free, sadly we experienced two loss of life incidents in 2016 – a stark reminder of how much more we need to do on our improvement journey. We will remember these incidents. We will learn from them. That said, we have seen significant improvement in our performance. We believe this is due to our people-centric approach. I call it our ‘special sauce’ and it’s based on engagement, sharing stories and reinforcing why safety matters to us as all.

Q: What environmental protection measures have De Beers put in place at its operations? And how will climate change affect these programmes?
A: Environmental management systems are in place at all of our operations, underpinned by a set of risk-based standards. We realise that challenges related to water scarcity, energy security and climate change require us to think differently in terms of our responses, and we know that collaboration and partnerships are key.

The Camborne School of Mines at the University of Exeter recently undertook a risk and adaptation assessment at our Venetia mine. The results indicate that we could face more extreme rainfall events, increased temperatures and extended periods of drought. It is therefore important for us to adapt to the potential changes – both in terms of design and technological responses.

In 2014, we formalised our energy, carbon and water strategies, which include efficiency measures and an increased focus on renewables.

Q: The cutting of carbon emissions is high on your agenda. What successes has the company had so far with this, And what do you aim to achieve in the immediate future?
We have embarked on a project to explore the carbon-capture potential of kimberlite. The use of mineral carbonation technologies could enable a carbon-neutral diamond mine where only the net carbon extracted from the earth will be the diamonds themselves. And even if a carbon-neutral mine cannot be attained, the use of mineral carbonation technologies could substantially reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

We are excited by the potential and practical application in collaborating with leading international academics and experts.

Q: De Beers is uniquely both a diamond miner and marketer. What challenges does that bring to sustainability issues?
A: This means there is a direct link between our sustainability performance and our brand. G2G establishes alignment in our efforts across all our operations so that we can be consistent in our delivery and protect the special place that diamonds hold in the lives of our consumers.

We believe that the delivery of our G2G ambitions and goals will result in the creation of value for us as a business and society as a whole.

Q: How does De Beers work with the communities surrounding its mines?
Diamonds can and should be a catalyst for creating value and delivering socio-economic benefit to the communities in which we operate. We fully share communities’ aspirations to secure the greatest possible long-term value from our activities and harness the scale and strength of our core business to deliver a wide range of socio-economic development programmes.

It starts with taking the time to listen to the needs and concerns of communities, and this is central to how we work. This approach needs to be specific to the local context of each operation and is outlined in each operation’s long-term social performance strategy.

Q: How does De Beers ensure standards of sustainability are met across its diamond pipeline – especially with regard to conflict diamonds?
Firstly, all De Beers diamonds are 100% conflict free. The De Beers Best Practice Principles Assurance Programme is applicable to all De Beers Group companies, as well as to all our rough diamond-buying customers and their substantial contractors. These prohibit any trade in conflict diamonds, use of child labour and abuse of human rights.

The programme reaches approximately 320 000 people in 72 countries, working in more than 3 000 diamond-related entities across the entire diamond value chain, from exploration through to retail.

De Beers also participates in a number of industry bodies such as the Responsible Jewellery Council (a not-for-profit standard setting and certification organisation) and the World Diamond Council (the industry body that represents diamond companies as part of the Kimberley Process – the government, civil society and business initiative).

De Beers is also one of the founding partners of the Diamond Development Initiative, an organisation that is helping artisanal miners in Africa formalise their activities and benefit their communities.

Q: The company’s CSI spend is dominated by education, community development and health. Why were those identified as the highest priorities?
Of our total social investment in 2015, approximately 76% was spent in SA, Namibia and Botswana, where education, community development and health are not only national priorities but also key issues for local communities. We have agreed on social and labour plans in SA aimed at promoting socio-economic growth.

A socio-economic assessment tool assists us in aligning our investments with the priorities that are articulated by local stakeholders, either as immediate priorities or as elements to be addressed in closure planning.

Social investment is one of seven focus areas through which our mining operations contribute to long-term socio-economic development. To date, our activities have been weighted towards social investment, enterprise development and infrastructure support. We are now driving towards more strongly integrated programmes that provide a greater cumulative impact than stand-alone initiatives at a local level.

Through technical training colleges and bespoke programmes, we also seek to ensure that local people can gain the skills needed to benefit from employment opportunities with De Beers and other businesses, including those supported through our enterprise development programmes.


Q: You unveiled a road safety campaign in Limpopo called Salus. How and why did that come about?
We had seen an increase in road accidents that involved our colleagues and their families. Even though these accidents were not directly related to our activities, we believe we have a responsibility to set, maintain and raise safety standards in our communities. So we embarked on Project Salus (named after the Roman goddess of safety), a community road safety project in the Blouberg and Musina areas of SA’s Limpopo province.

Our objective is to work together to influence behaviour to enable safer public roads. So we are working across functions, disciplines and teams and in partnership with Limpopo’s provincial Department of Transport in a truly people-centric manner.

In March we launched the Choose Life: We Care on the Roads behavioural intervention campaign. The concept centres around a typical family faced with choices.

Every day we make choices – especially when it comes to road safety. We choose to drive under the influence. We choose to drive tired. We choose to speed. But we can be persuaded to make the right choices if we see the value in them, or if we see the consequences of making the wrong choices.

The Choose Life campaign talks to these choices, focusing on key themes that were distilled based on conversations with various stakeholders – and these themes ask people to reflect on the choices they make and, importantly, commit to making the right choices in the future.

Our focus is on the communities, which includes schools as well as our employees.

Q: The development of post-mining communities is a big part of De Beers’ sustainability agenda. How does the company envisage that best happening?
The long-term nature of our business requires us to start with the end in mind. For this reason, closure planning is an integral part of our business planning process and all operations have closure plans in place.

This compels us to understand the aspirations and priorities of communities to support sustainable economies post-closure.

Closure plans are developed with the aim of establishing the foundations for sustainable post-mining communities and economies while protecting the environment, and we work on closure planning throughout the life of every mine.

Part of the closure transitioning process is town proclamation in the cases where a mining town has been established. This is a lengthy and complex process that starts well before the closure of a mine. It’s important that the transitioning process is handled in a collaborative manner and in engagement with all the relevant stakeholders.

An alternative to closure could be transferring assets to responsible operators that may be able to extend the productive life of the mine. This process is controlled and, through the conditions of sale, we ensure that the new owners will be able to create value and deliver benefits.

By Patrick Farrell
Image: Athiyah Cader
Repro artist: Karin Livni