Building a digital trust ecosystem for mining in British Columbia

By and Phil Duffy | 4 minute read | March 10, 2022

Responsible practices to preserve our planet require innovation, agility, and collaboration. Consumers, investors, producers, and governments around the world are choosing to do business with those that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.

In the mining sector, British Columbia is committed to increased transparency and trust related to where products come from and how they are produced. This includes provenance related attributes for supply chain, tracing, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting.

“While there is tremendous progress already underway in this space [Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network]” says Alex Kaplan, Global Leader for IBM Digital Credentials. “What I’m most excited about is what comes next and where we could go together.”

Charting the course

The government of British Columbia is leading the way by creating a digital service and convening an ecosystem that brings together producers, purchasers and investors of those raw materials to scale trusted credentialing in the mining space. As part of this initiative the government is convening the digital trust ecosystem led by BC’s Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation (EMLI). In partnership with broader digital trust efforts from the BC Ministry of Citizens’ Services, there is extensive digital trust work taking place within the province.

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Blockchain technology is part of the core infrastructure of this initiative because is a catalyst for sustainable development as it enables the trusted exchange and automation of minerals data across all participating members. Leveraging the technical and consultative expertise of IBM Blockchain, a pilot digital trust ecosystem is being activated that will allow BC natural resource producers to share verifiable evidence of where materials came from and the producer’s certified sustainable environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, IBM and EMLI are partnering to create a long-term vision of the how the technology and ecosystem will address market needs and a governance model to accelerate future adoption. The founding members of the digital trust community will be working together over the coming months to build a governing charter for the ecosystem and its process, support onboarding, and expand the services.

Making it real: Digital credentials in action

This collaboration will use the existing OrgBook BC service. OrgBook BC started in 2017 as an early collaboration and exploration with IBM and Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) around registries data, then evolved to begin using verifiable credentials, leveraging Hyperledger Aries and Indy technologies. The BC government and IBM helped found and contributed to the Trust Over IP (ToIP) Foundation focused on digital trust. ToIP launched in May 2020 as a confluence of efforts in the digital identity, verifiable credential, blockchain technology, and secure communications spaces to converge and create an interoperable architecture for decentralized digital trust.

“Simply put,” says Ryan Forman, Executive Director, Strategic Initiatives Branch, EMLI, “the province of BC is leveraging their investment in open source distributed ledger technology, involvement in the ToIP, and industrial emissions data to enable mining operators to easily share third-party verified information about company performance.” The vision is to enable multiple sectors of the economy to contribute credentials and provincially-held data, going well beyond just provincial data.

The digital ecosystem is in the early-adopters stage and, IBM together with the province of BC, are working with an international advisory committee to develop the strategy and approach. BC has been designing an enterprise grade BC Wallet for Business, which is a first for a government to establish for the business community. This will enable the province to issue credentials directly to companies in BC providing self-soveriegn control of the data to mining operators.

The Mines Digital Trust Ecosystem wallet uses verifiable credentials which are enhanced digital versions of physical credentials. The Mines Digital Trust Ecosystem is built on technology that is highly transparent, secure, tamper-proof, and immutable. From the moment information is stored, it cannot be changed. Credentials can be revoked and re-issued as business processes dictate.

Moving forward with mining in BC

Leveraging technology like blockchain gives mining operators, regulators, and customers the potential to get their greenhouse gas reductions verified and share those credentials in way that can be trusted. But the technology alone is not enough. In order for this ecosystem to become a viable solution adopted beyond the pilot phase, and championed by its ecosystem participants in the market, it will require both a long-term vision of how the technology will address market needs and a governance model that allows for future growth.

EMLI is partnering with IBM to engage with the founding members of the mines digital trust community, building a governing charter for the community and its process. This partnership will also support onboarding and expand the wallet services.

“I’m truly excited to be part of this important initiative that clearly demonstrates BC’s leadership and commitment to supporting leading edge innovation in lowering the carbon footprint of our natural resource industries” says Gerri Sinclair, BC’s Innovation Commissioner.

I personally look forward to sharing more over the coming months as we co-develop a governance strategy that addresses the business, operational, legal and technology aspects of the Mines Digital Trust Ecosystem.

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Phil Duffy, Public Sector Lead/Climate and Sustainabilty, IBM Consulting