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Advocating for a More Sustainable Future at Covia

Advocating for a More Sustainable Future at Covia

Published 07-19-23

Submitted by Covia

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Michele Oxlade

From advising on Canadian legislation to creating organization-wide environmental initiatives, I am appreciative for the experiences and opportunities Covia has encouraged me to pursue throughout my eight years with the company. Looking back, I am so grateful I was given the chance to make real, impactful change in the lives of Covia Team Members and in communities across the globe.

A Catalyst for Change

Back in the 90s, I was a self-proclaimed “tree hugger.” I wanted to change the world and build a sustainable future. If you told me back then that I would end up working for a company that mines, I would have called you crazy. I would never work for a company that would make me compromise on my beliefs. Thankfully, when I met the incredible Environmental Team at Covia, I found that I could work for a mining company that does right by the environment and cares about the communities in which it operates.

My journey to where I am today was slightly unconventional. My college experience started at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and after completing my Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology, I became a stay-at-home mother to two amazing boys. After nine years, I decided to go back to college to gain some new skills and completed my Ecosystem Technologists diploma at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario. This experience was transformative, it gave me the opportunity to meet and communicate with a wide array of unique people – one of which I am now married to all these years later.

After graduation, I landed at a consulting firm that developed rules and regulations around for the protection of drinking water for the Great Lakes. It was at this firm that my passion for environmental protection developed. During that time, I was able to further hone the skills that I later brought to my position at Covia.

I made the transition to Covia in 2015 as an Environmental Specialist. Throughout the last eight years, I have been promoted to Senior Environmental Specialist and have had the privilege to be the Corporate Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) Coordinator. My current role includes permitting and compliance for 10 Covia plants, located in the southern United States and the Province of Ontario in Canada. During my time at Covia, I have been able to develop great relationships with state regulators and plant managers – helping plants go beyond the basic level of compliance.

By developing positive relationships with environmental regulators, my team and I try to stay ahead of any upcoming policy changes that might impact Covia’s plants. For instance, the Tri-Colored Bat is planned to be listed as a protected species by the U.S. Government later this year. By working closely with regulators and plant managers, we can proactively ensure our plants are meeting updated regulations and stay in compliance by staying in constant communication with regulators.

Since day one, I have continued to grow and thrive at Covia – gaining my footing and confidence to speak on topics with authority. This growth has helped me become an even stronger advocate, guiding Covia to enact progressive environmental policies throughout the organization. I value the relationships that I have built and the role that I play to help our plants go above and beyond regulatory minimums. Together, we make a real difference in the communities in which we operate.

Wildlife Habitat Certification (WHC)

My role as Covia’s Corporate Wildlife Habitat Council Coordinator gives me the unique opportunity to work with various plants to create well-rounded conservation certification programs. These programs meet the Wildlife Habitat Council’s criteria for broad-based biodiversity enhancements and conservation education. One of my favorite programs is the Turtle Conservation program at our NSO plant in Canada. This program and several others have received praise and recognition from WHC for their impact on the preservation and improvement of biodiversity at our sites.

Looking ahead, I am excited for the opportunity to increase the number of Covia sites that are WHC certified. By 2030, Covia’s goal is to have 50% of our mining and processing sites achieving and maintaining WHC certification. I’m excited to help more sites build programs and initiatives that support biodiversity.

Two people smiling with dog

World Environment Day

The other project that I’m proud of is the creation of World Environment Day at Covia. The first year we participated in World Environment Day, there was opportunity for the Environmental Team to create a more informative and impactful program. Covia listened to my feedback and guidance to improve the event into what it is today. I like to think that you don’t have to be in the environmental department to love World Environment Day. Four years into this project, and I can confidently say that my sentiment rings true.

World Environment Day has turned into an organization-wide celebration that’s hosted by the Environmental Team. Each year, in alignment with the United Nations’ yearly theme, the Environmental Team hosts a virtual event that features environmental and ESG updates as well as guest appearances from well-known environmental advocates. We’ve had speakers such as Steve Adair, Ducks Unlimited’s Chief Scientist, and Wildlife Habitat Council’s President, Margaret O’Gorman.

Following the event, the environmental team invites Team Members to participate in a scavenger hunt that reinforces the WED topic. Last year, in conjunction with the UN’s theme – Only One Earth – the Biodiversity Scavenger Hunt encouraged Team Members to safely explore their neighborhoods to complete tasks such as litter clean up. This year, the Team visited the Houston Audubon Raptor Education Center to film the event that premiered on June 5.

Lifetime Learner and Advocate

One of the things I really appreciate about Covia is that they encourage us to pursue our interests outside of the office. I like to spend that free time learning new things, solving puzzles, advocating for environmental protections, and relaxing with my husband and our dog on our boat.

Currently, I am a sitting member of the Ontario Mining Association’s Environmental Committee. There, I help review and provide feedback on legislation that that may impact the mining industry. I think it’s critical that members of Covia are a part of the conversation on mining legislation and environmental protection. Not only do we have proper insight to give feedback, but it pushes us to be a leader in our industry when it comes to environmental conservation.

I am always trying to learn something new. Whether that stems from attending the Wildlife Habitat Council Conference every year or taking ongoing education courses – I love to learn. In my field, it’s important to stay up to date on regulations and best practices so that we can pivot quickly and effectively when the need arises.

ESG: More Than a Talking Point

I’m looking forward to what comes next for Covia and its ESG goals. The ESG conversation has been advancing rapidly over the last few years and I cannot wait to see our goals come to fruition. From reclamation and water conservation to species management, there are a ton of initiatives right now that are making a real difference. The data so far has been phenomenal, and I can’t wait to be a part of what comes next.

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At Covia, we are committed to being more than just a leading provider of high-performance mineral and material solutions – we believe that our company can make a positive difference in the world. This belief is what drives our environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, which is influenced by both our journey as an organization and the events in the world around us.

Our commitment to operating as a responsible corporate citizen has been embedded into every aspect of our business for decades and serves as the foundation for Covia’s ESG initiatives. From our operations to our Team Members and the communities in which we live and work, we continue to define WHAT WE’RE MADE OF as more than the materials we produce, but the impact we can make in every interaction.

In 2021, we enhanced our approach toward accelerating ESG performance by developing our formal GOALS THAT INSPIRE: ESG 2030. These 10 goals, broken into our three core areas - Environmental Stewardship, Positive Social Impact and Responsible Governance & Ethics - were developed by Covia Team members across the company and are designed to drive tangible and measurable progress in areas where we can make the most impact.

We have the commitment and strategy in place to drive meaningful progress and we are pledging to make a positive differences for our people, our planet and our communities.

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