Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mining industry cleaning up its act

If you had to choose the most destructive industry, mining would likely be on your list, infamous for blowing the tops off mountains, toxic tailing ponds, leaving behind entire towns as Superfund sites, along with slave labor and sketchy safety practices. But customer pressures are driving change.

Consumer-facing companies in the electronics, automotive and other sectors are increasingly concerned about having access to secure supplies of metals and minerals that have been produced responsibly – as are companies delivering the technologies that support the transition to a low-carbon future.
This is why the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) has developed new membership requirements to advance the sustainability performance of the mining sector. ICMM is an international organisation dedicated to a safe, fair and sustainable mining and metals industry. Bringing together 27 mining and metals companies and 36 regional and commodity associations, ICMM has worked collaboratively for over 15 years to strengthen the environmental and social performance of the industry.

From a sustainability perspective, this is progress. But we need to remember that taking materials from the earth’s crust is not sustainable unless we prevent those materials from getting into nature. (The Natural Step’s first principle.) Those materials have been buried safely for millions or billions of years, so life evolved expecting low concentrations of those materials. A little bit of zinc and iron in your body is good; too much and you’re dead. Even a little bit of arsenic, lead or uranium can threaten your health. So we need a Circular Economy where all these mined materials are recovered and put back into new products again and again.

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