Mining for the Common Good – The Intelligent Miner

Liz Lappin, CEO of Common Good Mining, has dared to…

Liz Lappin, CEO of Common Good Mining, has dared to do what few entrepreneurs have to date: to set up a for-purpose company and a social business, in mining.

Equipped with a background in oil and gas, geothermal, and lithium, as well as an MBA in social business, she has felt for some time that there are opportunities to rethink natural resource business models and, particularly, that social impact was not considered an opportunity but rather as a cost.

When the chance came to co-found a non-traditional mining company with the sole purpose of social impact with community-based resource development, she jumped at it.

And when the opportunity presented itself to talk to her about Common Good Mining, her journey with the newly founded company in the past year and her vision of the future, I jumped at that too.

Liz Lappin
Liz Lappin is CEO of Common Good Mining

Liz, what makes you so passionate about making a difference and doing something different in the mining space?

I’m convinced that we can’t have climate action without metals, so we need mining. We should be acutely aware that mining touches every UN Sustainable Development Goal positively as well as negatively, which means it has a very important role to play in the transformation.

I look at this as a big opportunity to reconfigure the purpose of mining; if we are going to mine anyway, how can we make it more generative as an industry?

And you found like-minded people who jumped at the idea of a generative mining business …?

Yes, actually it was Craig Dunn, a former colleague and serial entrepreneur, who approached me to get something going. We assembled a team who were experts in mining and all showed up with a personal value piece around wanting to do business differently.

We sat down and talked about our values, mission, and vision, and it turned out it wasn’t hard to agree on a core set of shared values with the number one value being to create net-positive impacts for communities.

In addition, we agreed on creating an equitable, diverse and safe corporate culture, building truth and reconciliation through our company, and making environmental protection and transparent business practices central to our business.  

The vision we carved out was simple: to do mining for the common good. Our mission aligned with that: sustainable metals development in partnership with communities.

Can you tell me more about the business model and how you plan to bring this vision to life?

The key to our business model is that we don’t target tier 1 deposits initially, but smaller higher-grade deposits that have been considered uneconomic within the current business paradigm.

We’re planning to change that through a modular approach and operations that are much more compact – we’re talking about ‘mining pods’ half the size of a soccer field.

The interesting part is that, if you reduce the scope and scale of your operation, you also reduce the risk, environmental impact and the capital required.

Furthermore, thinking small instead of big opens up opportunities for community equity participation and ownership structures. For example, community-based ownership models.

Can you tell me more about the modular approach to mining you envision?

Modular mines are, in essence, a way of piloting a larger mine, providing avenues to invest in agile, accelerated development.

This means that every modular mine needs to stand on its own feet economically. So, you start small, and monitor different data points.

After a few years you have a lot of data, say on the geometry and mineralogical traits of the orebody, how well the equipment works, the actual amount of noise and emissions produced, the impact on biodiversity, and how it’s going for the community – whether they truly benefit from the approach.

Then, you can take all that data to build a bigger project if you discover, for example, lower grade deposits around the initial orebody. You can adapt and make changes in ways that meet the needs of the community.

This opens new opportunities that are overlooked by the current mine design and development paradigm. Modular mining is an offering to disrupt the dominant model in a way that complements traditional approaches, by addressing some of the pain points of current development strategies.

Simply building a smaller mine on a smaller deposit probably isn’t the full answer. What are your levers to change that and turn these projects into a valuable supply source for climate minerals?

Yes, that’s true. In addition to taking a modular approach, we’re also putting a strong emphasis on favourability of deposits.

This means, we’re not just looking at geology and mineral systems, but also reduced barriers in terms of access to infrastructure, proximity to urban centres, roads, complementary industries, etc.

Then we’re looking at customers and building relationships. Depending upon the commodity we plan to produce high-grade concentrates and sell them to smelters and/or refineries. We have ongoing discussions with different parties to understand the opportunities.

Modular mines force you to think through the entire economic and social lifecycle.

What this comes down to is that we’re taking a very comprehensive techno-economical approach factoring in a lot of different indicators and then using AI and machine learning to process the data and create more holistic models. That is, we believe, how we can be competitive.

Small, scalable mines provide opportunities for new kinds of equity participation and ownership structures as well as community-based ownership. Image: World Bank

Can you tell me about the circular and modular infrastructure design and what kind of technology you will be applying?

We’re targeting a drill mining operation, with no open pits, and on-site extraction. For that, we plan to use off-the shelf technology, so there’s nothing revolutionary about the components, but there will be some innovation on how we put those pieces together.

Small-scale mining (not artisanal mining) is quite prominent in South America, but even in Canada, as we discovered, there are vendors for suitable equipment. The equipment will be circular, because it will be used at the next modular mine until it gets decommissioned, and the metals get recovered. 

To reduce waste and improve sustainability, we’re planning to recover water on site through a water treatment plant and do the same with the reagents used in processing.

The details of our flowsheet are still under development, but we’re ready to go with a demonstration project as soon as we have funding and an agreement in place with the community.

The demonstration project will entail bulk sampling and testing for establishing the flowsheet and modular mine design basis. We will test a set of optimal solutions and take it from there.

You have several projects in British Columbia in your development portfolio. What are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

There are two major challenges that will determine how quickly we can move forward with our projects.

The first is the speed of trust. The world wants critical minerals now, but good relationships with communities and rights holders take time. Once we’ve reached a space where we can move forward together, whether as equity partners or in a governance agreement, we can proceed.

We’re developing relationships with the various communities and are very fortunate to have Lana Eagle serve as a Board Director and as VP of Indigenous Affairs, who brings the experience needed to build the trust required to move forward.

The second is access to capital. What we find is that the economies of scale business model is still very much entrenched not just in mine design, but mine financing as well. At the same time, in social finance and clean-tech, mining is often not a qualified investment, or there is an emphasis on technology versus assets.

We don’t need a lot to get going, so we’re looking for values-aligned investors to innovate alongside us and target social impact and financial returns through mining.

Common Good Mining’s flowsheet is still under development, but the concept is based around ‘mining pods’ about half the size of a soccer field. Image: Common Good Mining

What has the reaction been from the Indigenous communities so far?

There’s a prevalent attitude in industry that Indigenous communities need to be convinced and brought on board. But to me, the true opportunity lies in Indigenous leadership. Many of the communities we’ve spoken to are best placed to develop a project sustainably because of their knowledge and connection to the land.

That’s why our approach is one of an open invitation. I like to use the analogy of the ‘half-baked plan’; we can’t show up without a plan, but at the same time, the plan can’t be so well formed that there’s no inclusion.

It has to be a framework that can be molded to design for shared value. Working collaboratively and meaningfully with Indigenous communities results in better outcomes for all involved.  

Yet, as can be expected, the sentiments vary greatly. Some communities are strictly against mining and don’t want any resource development in their territory.

Some are willing to talk to us, because we focus on climate metals, and because our plans are modular and smaller in scale. Other communities wonder why we bother with small modular mines because it disturbs the land without maximising the associated economic development opportunities.

Would your approach of purpose-led modular mining be transferable to other places where there are no Indigenous communities?

Yes, because no matter where mines are around the globe, there will be impacted communities of people. That’s also why one of our company values is net-positive impacts for communities. In Canada, we often have both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the same region, and the Indigenous communities are rights holders.

I’ve also spoken to people about applying this model to artisanal mining in the Global South as a way to make it safer and more equitable.

What’s your vision for future mining?

My vision is to mine for the common good.

If you asked many people in the industry what the purpose of mining is, their answer would be  to make money. Common Good’s business model challenges that by asking: what if making money was a result instead of the purpose?

If the purpose was, for example, advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, how would we design mines differently? How might we include equity-deserving groups? And importantly, how does that allow us to reduce risk, move faster, and increase profit?

I believe that the solution to the risks the mining industry faces today is to put sustainability and social performance at the core of the business model. It’s not enough to follow standards and check-off boxes.

Modular mining is one way to unlock new avenues for purpose-led mining. It can serve as a concept that can help mining accelerate metals to market, and open new opportunities for many stakeholders and rightsholders.   

Modular mining is, at its core, about aligning profit and purpose to achieve something greater for the benefit of all.


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