Pointing mining activities to a more sustainable direction

Pointing mining activities to a more sustainable direction

In recent years, the notion of sustainable mining has worked its way onto the agenda of many international processes. Ensuring that mining activities are carried out in a sustainable manner will require concentrated efforts by all stakeholders over a long period of time.

The extractive industry’s contribution to developing countries has been extensively documented by researchers and economists. Proponents of mining consider it intuitively evident that the industry is a vehicle which can drive sustained economic growth to lift regions out of poverty. A World Bank report makes this case, noting that “natural resources-based activities can lead growth for long periods of time […] in countries such as Australia, Finland, Sweden, and the United States. Mining was the main drive of growth and industrialisation in Australia and the United States over more than a century”. 1 There are also opposing arguments that focus on the ‘boomtown’ effect driven by short-term mining projects, with associated issues such as the so-called “Dutch disease” or “resource curse”. 2 The extractive industry, as is argued by these academics, paradoxically creates a negative effect in the countries of the Global South.

Regardless of one’s position on this matter, it remains a fact that the products of the extractive industry are crucial for the development of infrastructure and many of the items in daily use. With the current pivot towards sustainability being a key issue for governments, organisations, and individuals, many multinational mining companies have been exceedingly quick to herald beneficial improvements in technology and operational practices in their mines. But the costs to mine cleanly, effectively, and efficiently may sometimes be prohibitive. Herein lies the key question: how can the universal laws of supply and demand in a growing world of consumption result in a sustainable extractive industry?

Sustainable mining is, in any case, an ongoing process that constitutes long-term sustainable development, and it is not a momentary undertaking. 3 There are many factors to consider, and mining operators must be aware that the notion of sustainable mining goes beyond mere corporate and social responsibility efforts. Ecological and environmental protection, as well as the health and safety of miners and their surrounding communities, are equally important as mining companies develop the mines in the Global South.

A greater transparency and the fostering of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles have become necessary for mining firms to successfully operate in the global marketplace. As more and more investors consider ESG reporting to be a key consideration for companies to remain within their investment portfolios, mining companies are gravitating towards better reporting standards. This has effectively driven mining companies to improve their collective reputation, secure financing, and address concerns related to resource extraction and sourcing. The concept of a social license to operate has also evolved beyond local approval and cooperation — the multinational nature of extraction, transportation, processing, and production means that firms must now abide by global standards. It means that mining firms are being judged around the world on their efforts related to the United NationsSustainable Development Goals, the International Council on Mining and Metals’ Mining Principles, and other environmental frameworks.4

In combination with consumer and investor pressure to mine cleanly, sustainably, efficiently, and effectively, the push to adopt sustainable mining practices has been driven by top-down decision-making in the boardrooms of mining companies. Enabling mining companies to achieve a non-toxic mining outcome is essential to the sustainable mining effort. 5 Clean Earth Technologies has a cyanide-free and mercury-free gold recovery reagent with fast reaction kinetics that mining companies can use to mine cleanly, sustainably, efficiently, and effectively. By utilising this mining lixiviant and a Clean Mining de-watering solution, gold mining companies can reuse the reagent and save on water use, which is particularly important for mines in arid regions. Dry, non-toxic tailings which are created can be scattered over topsoil, and mining operators can avoid having to store toxic slurries of cyanide-contaminated waste in tailings facilities that are costly to upkeep and dangerous to maintain.

Attempts to green-wash sustainability in the mining context will not work. Genuinely clean solutions must be implemented for sustainable mining to be carried out. In emerging economies that are especially reliant on their extractive industries, sustainable mining initiatives and the use of clean solutions like Clean Earth Technologies’ gold recovery reagent can help mining corporations build up their ESG scores and accord tremendous resilience in their mining operations. 6



[1] Power, Thomas Michael. “Digging to development? A historical look at mining and economic development.” An Oxfam America Report (2002).

[2] Richard M. Auty, Resource Abundance and Economic Development: Improving the Performance of Resource-Rich Countries (Helsinki: UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU/WIDER), 1998).

[3] Józef Dubińsk, “Sustainable Development of Mining Mineral Resources,” Journal of Sustainable Mining 12, no. 1 (2003): pp. 1-6, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.7424/jsm130102.

[4] Andy Whitmore, “The Emperors New Clothes: Sustainable Mining?,” Journal of Cleaner Production 14, no. 3-4 (2006): pp. 309-314, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2004.10.005.

[5] For more on alternative lixiviant to cyanide for leaching gold ores and the research interest behind sustainable mining issues pertaining to mining lixiviants in general, see, M.g. Aylmore, “Alternative Lixiviants to Cyanide for Leaching Gold Ores,” Gold Ore Processing, 2016, pp. 447-484, https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-444-63658-4.00027-x.

[6] Asher, Sam, and Paul Novosad. “Digging for development: Mining booms and local economic development in India.” In Technical Report. Working Paper. Oxford University (April), 2014.

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