In Conversation with Pernelle Nunez: Why are women integral for driving sustainable change in the mining industry?

03 April 2024 by Camilla Lang
blog author

​The WIM 100 Initiative, started by Women in Mining UK, has been going on for over a decade and is at the heart of what the non-profit does. It aims to highlight the wealth of female talent within the global mining industry, celebrate women's “above and beyond” contributions to the industry, and identify role models for future generations.

As a part of this biennial event, Acre is speaking to senior women in sustainability in the mining industry to discuss the challenges of the work they do and to celebrate the positive impact that they are having.

To start, we sat down with Pernelle Nunez, Deputy Secretary General and Director of Sustainability at the International Aluminium Institute (IAI), to discuss her experiences as a woman in the mining industry and the impactful sustainability work that is being done in the sector.

Sustainability isn’t always synonymous with mining. What inspired you to work in the mining industry?

With her background in Geology, Pernelle initially began her career at CRU before specialising in aluminium at the IAI.

“I was already starting to see sustainability creep into some of the consulting projects that I was working on, and there was a noticeable shift in the sector. It felt like such an interesting and growing area to explore further in the industry. Mining is often perceived as a very mysterious sector, and there is a misconception that sustainability in mining is, more often than not, just greenwashing. I wanted to help change that.”

“People struggle to understand how sustainability and mining can be placed in the same conversation. It has become such an integral part of the industry, and we’ve seen that landscape change hugely in the last few years. When we look at how it was discussed at major events and conferences, it was always bolted on a bit at the end of a conference; whereas, now, it's part of the keynote.”

Why is mining crucial for building a more sustainable future?

There are so many things that are necessary to mining to build more sustainable futures, and aluminium is just one of these crucial commodities. Pernelle highlighted how aluminium is integrated into everyday life and is one of the few metals that have a very clear lifecycle for consumers, making it easier for them to make greener choices. In addition to these uses, it is also a key metal in transport, construction, and electricals, enabling future technologies.

“Sustainability is at the heart of what the IAI do, and we divide it into six key areas: climate, people, nature, waste, water and circularity. I think at this point, it’s no longer a question of discovering what the challenges in the sector are, so much as establishing solutions and balancing working on all of them at the same time.”

It is widely discussed that there is a skills shortage in the mining industry at the moment. What skills are necessary for effective sustainability leadership in mining?

“What makes a good sustainability professional is so varied; the role is multifaceted and requires communications, technical understanding, stakeholder management, community interfacing and much more. The biggest challenge for these individuals is the scale of the industry; it is truly global”.

There is definitely more that can be done, too, in order to attract people to the industry. It isn’t viewed as attractively as something like tech and sometimes is seen as a bit of an antiquated area, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The technologies that are developing in order to facilitate greener solutions for the future have deep roots in mining, and innovation is happening everywhere.

How can the mining industry strengthen its Diversity & Inclusion efforts?

Diversity & Inclusion is a topic which is at the forefront of discussions at many companies at the moment, not just on how to attract more diverse talent, but also how to retain these individuals in a competitive market.

“Being a woman entering such a male-dominated industry can be a daunting prospect, but my biggest piece of advice to women considering a career in mining is to remember that your voice is important, and that people are there to listen. Imposter syndrome is something that we all struggle with at some point in our lives, but remember that people aren’t there to catch you out, and the potential impact you can have is endless.”

Acre partners with companies to create real change by embedding impactful, purpose-driven people in their teams - from sustainability practitioners to CEOs. Get in touch with us to discuss how we can help.