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Responsible mining: what, why, when, who, where, how?

Updated: Sep 30



Satarla partner organisation, Responsible Raw Materials, were invited by BDG (Berufsverband der Deutschen Geowissenschaftler / German Association of Professional Geologists), to give a keynote speech on the second day of The 7th Meggen Raw Material Days. The conference took place on 15th to 17th September 2021 in Lennestadt-Meggen, Germany, and the keynote speech, Responsible mining: what, why, when, who, where, how?, was delivered by Dr. Sarah Gordon and Rose Clarke from Responsible Raw Materials and Satarla.


The slides from the presentation are freely available here, and the abstract from the keynote speech is below.


Sarah and Rose would like to thank for conference organisers for all their hard work and hosting them.




Abstract

Society’s scrutiny regarding the provenance of our raw materials continues to grow, and quite rightly so. It is becoming increasingly important for mining companies to show that they are responsible, and a host of frameworks and initiatives are being produced to facilitate this. This can create confusion, contributing to differing opinions on what responsibility actually means, whether it can be measured, and how it should be rewarded.


What is mining?

While the activity of mining only pertains to the extraction of rock from the ground, the industry includes activities spanning exploration, extraction, processing, transportation, closure of operations, management post-closure, input to the design of new technologies given access to various materials that may be used, stock-checking of commodities already in circulation, and recycling of material. Mining is therefore far more than a hole in the ground [1].


Why is responsible mining important?

Mining is essential to achieving any of the sustainable development goals [2]. The provision of raw materials critical to e.g. wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, or electric vehicles, requires a massive increase in mining activity. The sector needs to ensure that its historic, current, and future mining endeavors are conducted in the most responsible and sustainable way possible to avoid problem-shifting. The cure needs to be more sustainable than the problem.


When?

Now! However, we also need to clean up where we have left hazardous situations in the past. Countless mines that have been abandoned for many years continue to release acidic water and leach toxic metals into our ecosystems, and many tailings dams constructed poorly decades ago continue to pose a threat. We need to remediate as well as design newer mines responsibly.


Who?

Everyone. This is not just something for the mining sector to tackle. Numerous stakeholders need to step up to ensure we can make responsible mining a reality [3], including investors, insurers, policy makers, community members, NGOs, academics, and innovators, as well as the mining companies themselves.


Where?

Globally, across all of mining, including those aspects outside of the physical digging of the rock out of the ground.


How?

Many tools and approaches exist to help us ensure that responsible mining becomes a reality (many of which were showcased at Responsible Raw Materials conference, May 2021, and are illustrated in Figure 1). Unfortunately, at present, few are utilised as extensively as they could or should be. We need to employ these techniques and work together as a cohesive whole to address the full picture of responsible mining.


Whilst many mining organisations have operated incredibly responsibly in the past, unfortunately, others have not, and the effects of this have been catastrophic. Moving forwards, we need to ensure we all respect the material we remove from the ground, as well as the environment in which it comes from and the communities nearby, and view ourselves as short term stewards of that land.



[1] Satarla (2019) Introduction to mining factsheet,

[2] Carvalho, F. P. (2017) ‘Mining Industry and sustainable development: time for change’, Food and Energy Security, 6 (2)

[3] The Geological Society, (2019), Responsible Investing in Natural Resources



Fig 1. Infographic displaying stakeholders and Environment, Social and Governance tools that can be used to make responsible mining a reality. ©2021 Responsible Raw Materials.

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