As one of South Africa’s largest mining companies and a proud corporate citizen, Exxaro Resources is committed to contributing positively towards addressing one of the world’s most pressing issues: climate change.
One of the organisation’s champions for the cause and the group’s climate change specialist, Dr Lerato Khumalo was recently elected as vice-chair for the Industry Task Team on Climate Change (ITTCC). The voluntary, non-profit association comprises several local energy-intensive companies across different business sectors, including Exxaro, Sasol and Anglo American, collaborating to reduce South Africa’s carbon footprint. The task team works with government departments, trade associations and social partners to develop practical solutions for climate change mitigation, supporting the country’s gradual transition into a lower carbon, resource-efficient economy.
An expert in her field, Dr Khumalo recently completed her PhD in Chemical Technology at the University of Pretoria, focusing on the characterisation of atmospheric pollutants found in areas near opencast coal mining and other industrial activities. As part of her thesis, she spent 18 months collecting atmospheric samples from the Highveld and Waterberg areas to determine which techniques could be applied to characterise these atmospheric samples arising from coal mining and other industrial activities.
Dr Lerato began her career as an environmental specialist at a consultancy firm while completing her Master’s degree. She saw a gap in the market for professionals with qualifications and experience in the environmental management and sustainability space and made it her mission to make a difference. When she was offered a position as Group Air Quality and Climate Change Specialist at Exxaro, she was excited for the chance to bring impactful sustainability solutions to life. During the same year, the mining company was pioneering renewable energy investing, with its now 100% acquisition of wind-power company Cennergi.
Since then, Dr Lerato has shifted her focus to strategy and business transformation, which she believes are critical given global climate change concerns and how these affect businesses and society. “It is a challenging role, but it comes with so much opportunity to add value. I contribute to how Exxaro deals with climate change issues and integrates them into the business. “Our Strategy and Business Transformation Team also measures progress in this area and collaborates with different departments to ensure the entire organisation is aligned to Exxaro’s strategic objectives,” Dr Khumalo explained.
She also enjoys engaging with prominent government and industry stakeholders and policymakers to advise on climate policy implementation. Her opinion definitely holds weight – she was part of the committee that reviewed the Climate Change Bill in 2019 and 2020.
Dr Lerato believes that environmental, social and governance (or ESG) issues are connected to every element of a business and should be integrated into all departments and operations. With her help, the resources company has laid a foundation for this integration. She elaborated, “You cannot isolate ESG issues – they are linked to your competitiveness and investor attractiveness. We have to ask ourselves, how can we integrate these issues to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, contributing to national and global climate change efforts, and building business resilience?”
“This goes beyond Exxaro’s operations and filters into mining communities too. We have taken a holistic approach to ensure that we are also integrating our communities in our sustainability efforts, ensuring that our activities positively impact a country with existing socio-economic challenges, many of them stemming from neglect of sustainability issues,” she added.
When asked about what she loves most about her job, Dr Khumalo explained, “The world needs people who are adaptable and can rise to challenges. We all have a role to play to add value, contribute and educate others. I love seeing the results that are connected to Exxaro’s energy efficiency, climate change mitigation and adaptation and educational awareness efforts because these make a real difference in society, not just the business. I am proud to work for an organisation that puts its people at the heart of everything it does and puts its money where its mouth is.”
When asked about her appointment as vice-chair for the ITTCC she said that it is an honour to be part of the task team that is part of South Africa’s efforts to address and respond to climate change impacts and the transition to a low-carbon economy. “I look forward to adding value and working with the team to start the critical conversations our governments, businesses and citizens need to have to make this a reality."
First up on Dr Khumalo’s agenda? Addressing the key challenges of our country’s just transition and those that relate to the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission (PCCCC) – a crucial national advisory body in this space.
Both the ITTCC and Exxaro conduct targeted work to educate communities on environmental challenges. Dr Khumalo believes that this is essential if we are to take personal responsibility and work together to drive positive change. “Educational awareness campaigns for employees and societies are vital to empower citizens with the knowledge they need to understand these pressing issues and the role that each one of us can play to mitigate climate change.”
Dr Khumalo has an inspirational message for businesses and citizens that care about climate change. “It’s never too late – we still have room to make a difference. We are not only doing this for ourselves but for future generations, and it's up to each individual to commit to being better.”