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BHP Billiton has the ‘aspirational goal of zero harm to employees, communities and the environment’. Ruari McCallion looks at how it has been putting fine words into practice at the Ekati Diamond Mine Coldcomfort November 07 Businessexcellence 81 BHPBilliton You need a very good reason to invest CAN$900 million in a facility where the sun doesn’t shine for 22 hours a day for a large part of the year; where temperatures reach minus 40 degrees, with another 20 or 30 degrees of windchill; where there are no roads and the product occurs in just one part per million. That’s a million pounds of waste for each pound of value. BHP Billiton has a good reason: diamonds. Not just any old diamonds: gemstones with a quality well above average, jewelry grade stones that fetch towards the top end of a scale that extends from $7 a carat to over $300. The diamonds marketed under the Aurias brand name come from Ekati Diamond Mine. It’s located about 190 miles north-east of Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and around 125 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It’s unreachable by road for 10 months of the year, which means supplies have to be flown in. Anything heavy has to be driven by truck but there are no permanent roads: the route to the north is over thick ice-roads over the thousands of lakes that punctuate the Canadian Shield. Mining has not traditionally been known as an environmentally-sensitive activity, and that goes at least double for diamond extraction, because of the huge amount of waste. But BHP Billiton takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. It has, just this year, updated its climate change policy and says it believes that accelerated action is required to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels guided by the research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The corporation commits that it ‘will take action within our own businesses and work with governments, industry and other stakeholders to address this global challenge and find lasting solutions consistent with our goal of zero harm’. Globally, the company is investing US$300 million on research, development and internal energy efficiency projects over the next five years. The Ekati Diamond Mine practices energy conservation on an everyday basis. Minimizing energy use makes economic sense, because of the restriction on supplies. Heating is a priority but that has to be balanced with the need to keep the supply lines as efficient as possible. It uses waste oil in its underground