Transforming the Narrative on Social Licence to Operate (SLO) in Waste Management: Unlocking Project Success

Social Licence to Operate (SLO) is a concept with growing relevance and importance for the waste and resource recovery sector and projects associated with its infrastructure. SLO refers to the social acceptance of a project or facility by its neighbours and the broader community, including their perspective on its operations and how they frame their interactions with the project or facility. SLO is not something tangible that is issued, rather, it is a reflection of community and broader stakeholder perceptions of the social legitimacy and credibility of a project or activity.

How SLO is established and maintained can make or break a project. It is generally understood that SLO maintenance is crucial to ensuring project longevity and sector stability. While positive relationships with your stakeholders are the foundation for successful projects and operations, an absence of consideration of SLO can lead to increased regulation, additional expenses, loss of revenue, and in more extreme cases loss of business opportunity or the closure of facilities.

Establishing and then maintaining SLO is the basis for ensuring:

  • Your project or facility can be financially viable over its lifetime;
  • Your local community accepts you and your activities;
  • Stakeholders understand the value of your project or facility and the waste and resource recovery industry more broadly; and
  • Regulators can have confidence in your stakeholder relationships.

Gett It is important because:

  • Social licence can make or break a project;
  • Waste and resource recovery projects are often subject to high levels of scrutiny from the community;
  • Acceptance and ongoing approval of community and other stakeholders is crucial to a project’s success;
  • It is reflective of well designed and implemented stakeholder engagement, but it is more than this;
  • Community concern can appear before the proposal is fully formed – so you need to start early;
  • If after best efforts it can’t be established, consider if its worthwhile progressing with a project;
  • Loss of SLO results in increased attention from decision makers, approval bodies, regulators and public officials;
  • If not done right it is time consuming, expensive and potentially a project killer; and
  • Not addressing it can ‘poison the well’ for other projects.

SLO should be considered in parallel with the planning of community engagement. In order to maximise acceptability of the community in terms of its engagement and SLO acceptance, it is recommended that engagement is conducted in a genuine, meaningful, empowering and ongoing manner. Adhering to this principle goes above collection of data as proponents must be willing to respond to community desires and feedback.

In recognition of the need for SLO and to assist its members in understanding, establishing and maintaining SLO, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) engaged Talis Consultants to develop the Social Licence to Operate in the Waste and Resource Recovery Sector Toolkit.  The Toolkit and subsequent workshops Talis conducted to introduce it, assists organisations to understand the concept of SLO, the principles that underpin its establishment and maintenance and the key action points required to implement those principles.

The Toolkit is available through WMRR.

Given our original work on this important concept, Talis Consultants is uniquely placed to provide bespoke advice and assistance to clients on the establishment and maintenance of social licence for their projects.

Contact Mark Gifford for more information.

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