The social impacts of large industrial projects in small communities may occur at different stages, at various scales and will also evolve over time. Managing these impacts thus requires long-term planning and dialogue between the industry, community and local population. The REGINA Social Impact Management Planning (SIMP) is a tool to continuously identify, monitor and react to the social impacts of resource-based industries. REGINA is an EU-sponsored project that provides planning resources for small and remote communities facing large-scale industrial developments.

Social impact management in Northern Finland

The mining industry is booming in Northern Finland. This creates new opportunities for some of the rural communities in Lapland but also raises environmental and social concerns. Sodankylä Municipality recently adopted a mining programme aimed at ensuring sustainable development of the local mining industry. The REGINA SIMP is a key element of the new programme.

“The municipality is quite dependent on the mining industry,” says Anna Kantola, project manager for the REGINA project in Sodankylä. “Therefore, it’s very important for our community that the local mining industry develops in an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable way.”

Sodankylä is a sparsely populated community of around 8,600 people in central Lapland. The mining industry is the most important private sector employer, generating employment for around 800 people. The largest mining projects are the Boliden Kevitsa mine, which has been in operation since 2012, and the Anglo-American Sakatti exploration project.

“There’s considerable interest in mining in Northern Finland, which is rich in minerals,” says Leena Suopajärvi, University Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Lapland. “Currently, the international mining companies evaluate the economic viability of the mining projects, the authorities assess the environmental aspects, but the question remains: who takes care of the social sustainability?”

She emphasises the importance of addressing social impacts throughout the lifecycle of a mining project, as they will vary between the different stages of the process. For instance, the impact of mining on water quality is a key concern, and this impact is likely to change and develop over time.

“Sodankylä Municipality has decided that it encourages mining projects to be undertaken only when the environmental impacts, local benefits and long-term social impacts, both risks and opportunities, have been carefully assessed,” says Kantola.

Benefits for all involved

Sodankylä’s mining programme was developed in close co-operation with the mining industry, local population and researchers from the University of Lapland.

“The REGINA SIMP concept benefits everyone involved,” Suopajärvi says. “The companies obtain information about the attitude towards mining and the experienced environmental impacts. Municipalities become more aware of the issues that may arise and can adjust their local planning to meet the need for more housing or better traffic infrastructure. Lastly, the local population is given the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns about the mining activities.”

Suopajärvi and her team have conducted two surveys on the local population’s attitude towards mining, which will be repeated at a later stage of the process. And according to Joanna Kuntonen-van’t Riet - who is one of the Finnish representatives of Anglo-American, among the top ten mining companies in the world - being able to follow the local acceptance and approval in Sodankylä over time has been of great value to the mining activities in the area.

“We focus a lot on the social impacts of mining. Our aim is always that the local economy and the local population should benefit from having an Anglo-American mine in their community,” says Kuntonen-van’t Riet, who is Principal for Safety and Sustainable Development at Anglo-American Exploration Finland.

“The REGINA SIMP therefore fits well with our strategy and policy. It makes a lot of sense to develop a common approach to how the municipality deals with the mining companies,” she adds.

 
 

Ensuring local accept of mining

Anglo-American is currently conducting a pre-feasibility study of a rich copper, nickel and platinum-group elements ore deposit, Sakatti, located around 25 kilometres north of Sodankylä.

“The area is protected by Natura 2000 and the mire protection act,” says Kuntonen-van’t Riet. “Our feasibility study is based on placing all infrastructure outside the area and access the deposit trough an incline tunnel, which would meet the mineralisation at 400 metres below the surface. By doing that, we would avoid any direct impact on the protected area.”

She explains that the social aspects of mining include the impacts of exploration and land use, as well as the effects of mining on the local economy and services, land value and in-migration to the community. The surveys indicate that the mining industry enjoys strong local acceptance in Sodankylä.

“This is mainly because the mining industry brings new jobs to areas of out-migration and declining populations,” says Suopajärvi. “The projects attract new people, people at working age and people with children. The benefits are felt everywhere in the local community.”

Vibrant communities and cultural traditions

Sensitivity towards local culture and traditional livelihoods is another key issue when it comes to exploiting natural resources. As an example, in many of the northernmost regions of Finland, Sweden and Norway, industrial development projects often create challenges for the traditional reindeer herding communities. This is the case in Sodankylä as well as in Storuman Municipality in Sweden, another REGINA partner exploring the potential of further mining activities.

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“Reindeer herding uses large areas of land, but with minimal impact, while mining and other large-scale industries take up smaller areas, but the impact on the land and the culture is greater,” says Strategist Jimmy Lindberg. “An important aspect of managing the social impacts is to identify the areas in which we can establish bonds between the indigenous cultures and the industry in order to settle conflicting interests. This is a delicate process that requires concessions from both sides.”

A thriving local culture is also in the interest of the mining companies, says Kuntonen-van’t Riet.

“Part of what makes a place attractive is that it has its own cultural identity. It’s in our mutual interest that the municipality remains attractive. Not only with regards to the local residents, but also because we, as a company, have an interest in encouraging our people to move to Sodankylä with their families.”


The SIMP is one of three key planning resources that were developed as part of the REGINA Local Smart Specialisation Strategy – LS3. The aim is to empower small and remote communities by giving them planning tools to better deal with the introduction of large-scale resource-based industrial projects or for that matter with the socio-economic change following the closure of an important local industry.