Navigating the environmental plane
Located in Johannesburg, South Africa, is Digby Wells & Associates (DWA), an environmental solutions provider. The company offers services to the mining and metallurgical industry and was formed in 1995 by three partners, Ken van Rooyen, Graham Trusler and Digby Wells.

One year later, however, one of the founders, Wells, was tragically killed. Nevertheless, his many years of experience, philosophical approach and reputation in the mining and environmental fields made a significant and enduring contribution to Digby Wells & Associates, hence its name. The two remaining co-founders, van Rooyen and Trusler took the reins to bring the company forward.

Today, Digby provides input to their clients on corporate and government environmental policies on request. They advise on setting guidelines for policies or standards to ensure practicality meets cost savings. Digby believes this is a critical role for the company, in order to further Southern Africa’s need for environmentally sustainable development.

While matters of safety management and risk assessments can be included as part of the services package, the majority of Digby Wells & Associates’ business revolves around evaluating for clients environmental impacts of their businesses and water management. This remains a focus as they move forward into the future.

Strong customer base led to best year yet

Often times, busy managers do not have the time to properly study, digest and comment on environmental documents—especially those of a legal, policy or global nature. And so that’s where Digby Wells & Associates comes to help. With an expertise in government affairs and regulations, the environmental services provider compiles a comprehensive executive summary of the required documents, as well as offers recommendations about the most favourable position for each client.

In terms of geographical distribution, the customer base has changed a great deal. “We do a lot of work outside of South Africa but still within the continent, as well as the U.S., Russia and Peru, as just a few examples,” tells Trusler. “We’ve been focusing on helping our customers as they expand into developing countries, particularly companies with mining exploration ventures,” he adds.

Despite the financial ripples felts across the globe in recent years, the economic downturn has not had a direct impact on the company. “Lucky enough, we’ve got a very strong customer base; most of our clients are self-funded so they didn’t have to rely on the banks as much. But we also focused more on the gold and coal sector, both of which did particularly well—especially coal in South Africa,” explains Trusler.

Expanding offices into West Africa

With over 30 staff members, including part-time student assistance in four departments, DWA is a busy operation that fosters its employees to be actively involved in its clients’ projects. The environmental services provider has a broad range of experts who are focused on the resource sector, which sets the company apart from others. DWA focuses its efforts on expanding its already significant geographical footprint all the while exploring other non-traditional markets.

“We’re really looking to expand our offices into West Africa; we do have a presence in Ghana but we’d like to expand into Senegal. We’d love to have regional operating centers along the Ivory Coast, Mali, possibly, Guinea, and we’re also eyeing Zimbabwe. If or when the time is right, we might look at putting an office there,” he says.

The company is currently completing a research project on cleaner production in the mining industry through water research commission funding. Here is a brief overview of the cleantech aspect of the company.

Cleaner production technologies

Cleaner production involves reducing waste at the source and avoiding end-of-pipe treatments where possible. The innovative team at DWA applies the principles of cleaner production to ensure that the company meets clients’ environmental objectives while improving profits. “It is a cost-driven thing; we examine the entire process by looking at the life cycle of a project,” explains Trusler.

“For example, if it is a matter of arsenic containing deposits, we look at ways to extract the arsenic so it doesn’t leach away or if it’s a pollution matter to make sure it doesn’t spread around the countryside,”  he continues on, adding a great deal of focus is put on social issues.

Perhaps a concern for social and environmental issues is what makes DWA most unique. They are able to operate in developing countries with a whole range of people in vastly different income brackets, and manage to have them all agree on how to execute the project. “We also do, as part of our social studies, a REX plan; that is moving people offsite as the production goes on and try to do this in tune with the World Bank principles,” he adds.

Future outlook

Looking onto the future, DWA plans to focus on its operations in South Africa. DWA continues to focus its efforts on projects with some very high-profile clients, which have included De Beers, Randgold Resources, Xstrata and Shell.