• Victor Genin

Mining a Sustainable Future

How the Mining Industry Can Help the UN reach its Sustainable Development Goals

It is no secret that mining companies and environmentalists have not always gotten along. But what fewer people realize is that mining may actually be the key to creating a better and more sustainable world for all. To show how this can be done, we looked at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 released by the United Nations by the United Nations in 2015, noting just some of the ways in which mining companies can make a difference.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

The UN rightfully claims, “Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in.” And while water is a necessary part of many industrial processes, there are steps that mining companies can take to reduce their water usage and recycle water they otherwise would not use. A fascinating example of this can be found in Chinese iron and steel company TISCO, which faced a challenge when its cooling processes required more water than was sustainable. To overcome this, the company recycled wastewater from a nearby abandoned coal mine, making use of a water source that had formerly gone overlooked. Meanwhile, at Datong Mine in China’s Shanxi province, wastewater has been converted into drinking water that can be safely confused by the region’s inhabitants. This helps offset some of the environmental effects of the mine while providing locals with a new source of freshwater.

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

The declining cost of renewable energy sources has made them more attractive to mining companies than ever before. In particular, companies are increasingly choosing solar and wind power over traditional nonrenewable sources, which could help them simultaneously increase both profits and environmental friendliness. However, while it may be in the best interest of industrial organizations to begin transitioning to renewable sources, in the long run, it is also possible they will not have much of a choice in the matter: Ghana recently came close to passing a law that would have required mines to gain a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources, which could be a harbinger of legislation in countries across the world.

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

The mining industry is well equipped to answer the UN’s call to “create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs.” In addition to providing the materials that allow companies and entire economies worldwide to grow and thrive, the mining industry is capable of creating jobs that otherwise would not exist. While industrial AI knowledge and automation have replaced certain jobs by reducing the need for dangerous work, they have also created new jobs and allowed the mining industry to continue to thrive. To illustrate this, a June 2019 Australian Bureau of Statistics report showed that 23,794 mining jobs were added to the Australian economy between 2018 and 2019, marking an 11-percent rise in employment.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

As the UN notes, “investments in infrastructure are crucial to achieving sustainable development,” The mining sector, which depends on large infrastructure projects to ensure goods can continue moving, is uniquely positioned to make this a reality. Though mining companies have traditionally liked to have their own infrastructure, an increasing number are finding that the costs saved by collaborating with other organizations are worth having only partial ownership. This has societally beneficial effects as well, with the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment acknowledging, “In resource-rich countries, the mining sector can play a key role in increasing access to infrastructure.”

Goal 12: Responsible Production and Consumption

Mining companies have increasingly acknowledged the responsibilities they have as producers of the resources that keep the modern economy moving. An example of this is the “Mining with Principles” campaign enacted by the International Council on Mining and Metals, which aims to make the mining industry “safe, fair, and sustainable.” One success story the campaign recognizes is Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines project in Queensland, Australia. The location of the mines in an area inhabited by aboriginal groups initially posed a challenge, but through partnerships with local leaders, Glencore was able to create a training and mentoring program for locals while creating employment opportunities for aboriginal Australians.

Goal 13: Climate Action

All of the aforementioned goals contribute to this one. The UN acknowledges that “climate change is a global challenge that affects everyone, everywhere,” and mining companies can also take steps to achieve this. The Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative is an excellent idea of what can happen when industrial organizations work together in support of a common goal. Over the past 15 years, the initiative has gotten more and more mining companies to report their energy usage and set targets for themselves, increasing transparency while making operations more sustainable.

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