There is a correlation between the value of a commodity and the importance that the society it is mined attaches to the environment, according to Australian Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices director at the UNSW School of Mining Engineering associate professor Michael Hitch.
"We recognise social license is not an 'award for good behaviour' or a 'participation medal' but a living, breathing relationship, built on trust, requiring nurturing, and costly to lose," he said.
According to a report by CSIRO, the term "Social Licence to Operate" or "Social Licence" is gaining prominence in the resources sector as the industry increasingly focuses on recognising the interests of communities affected by mining activities.
"As originally conceived, the notion of a social licence to operate reflects the idea that society is able to grant or withhold support for a company and its operations; with the extent of support being dependent on how well a company meets societal expectations of its behavior and impacts," the report states.
A social licence is tacit, intangible and context specific. It needs to be earned and is dynamic, as people's experiences and perceptions of an operation shift over time.
Recent research highlights contrasts between industry and community perspectives on the engagement approaches required to develop local community acceptance of a company's operations, the report states.
"Industry has tended to focus on a transactional approach, while communities were much more focused on the perceived quality of the relationship," it says.
"Trust is identified as a key factor in shaping community attitudes toward an industry.
"The community engagement literature indicates that more collaborative forms of engagement between a company and the communities within which it operates lead to higher levels of trust, while noting the time and effort required to develop trust based on personal relationships."
According to the report, communities are diverse in their values, aspirations and expectations, with some groups also more marginalised than others, and that this needs to be taken into account in developing an inclusive engagement strategy.
"The importance of understanding a community's values, aspirations and expectations is emphasised if a company is to understand community perceptions of its actions," the report states.
"Dialogue that involves communities, companies and governments is seen as a potential approach to addressing community expectations in ways that are seen as legitimate, credible and trustworthy."