Minerals and metals are essential to the technology we utilize every day, and it is critical that they be responsibly sourced. Towards Sustainable Mining™ (TSM) is the Mining Association of Canada’s (MAC) award-winning commitment to responsible mining. The program was publicly launched in May 2004, and it constitutes an evolving set of guiding principles to enable mining companies to meet society’s needs for minerals, metals and energy products in the most socially, economically and environmentally responsible way. TSM is a sustainability standard that supports mining companies in managing key environmental and social risks and holds mining companies accountable in turning high-level commitments into action on the ground. These are the four TSM lessons: 

Mining is essential 

From the metals needed to power our transportation to the materials required to make communication possible, it is impossible to imagine a reality without it.

The future needs mining 

Mining is essential in our transition to a low carbon economy, one that requires mined minerals and metals to be fully realized, cannot be overstated.

Responsible management 

It is important that standards be in place to ensure that the process of mining is being managed responsibly, from start to finish.

Community engagement 

Today, communities expect more from mining companies and the industry expects much more of itself. 

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

Chronology of non-state sustainability initiatives in the Canadian mineral sector.

The table below shows the chronology of non-state sustainability initiatives in the Canadian mineral sector dating back to 1993 till 2008. Although our focus in this discussion is MACs TSM it is good to have an idea of what has been done. 

Year Initiative
1993 MAC – Whitehorse Mining Initiative
1999 GRI – Global Reporting Initiative Framework
2002 EITI – Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative
2003 ICMM – Sustainable Development Frame

PDAC e3 -Environmental Excellence in Exploration

2004 MAC – Towards Sustainable Mining
2005 MCA – Enduring Value

GRI – Mining and Metals Supplement (Pilot)

2006 IRMA – Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance
2008 PDAC e3 Plus – Framework for Responsible Explorations

How does TSM work?

Each year, mine sites use TSM to report on 8 protocols with 30 indicators of social and environmental performance. Qualified external verifiers review and confirm these results every three years.

TSM provides a set of tools and indicators that drive performance and ensures that key mining risks are managed responsibly at participating mining and metallurgical facilities. To translate commitments into action on the ground, TSM’s eight performance protocols focus on three core areas: Communities and People, Environmental Stewardship and Energy Efficiency. 

Each protocol is made up of a set of indicators that help mining facilities build, measure and publicly report on the quality of their management systems and their performance in key areas of mining activity. 

One of the key strengths of TSM is that mining companies are measuring where the mining activity takes place – at the facility level. The results provide local communities with a meaningful view of how a nearby mine is faring.

What are components of the TSM program?

Transparency – facilities publicly report their performance against the TSM indicators in the annual Progress Report and results are externally verified every three years. 

Credible – TSM is overseen by an independent Community of Interest (COI) Advisory Panel, which shapes the program for continual advancement. 

Accountable – assessments are conducted at the facility level where mining activity takes place 

Measurable – TSM includes requirements to demonstrate measurable continual sustainability improvement. 

How is TSM overseen?

An independent, multi-interest advisory body oversees all aspects of the TSM program. Interested individuals and groups can also comment on draft TSM policies and protocols during public comment periods.

TSM includes ongoing consultation with a national Community of Interest (COI) Advisory Panel, an independent, multi-stakeholder group comprised of about 12 to 15 individuals from Indigenous groups, communities where the industry is active, environmental and social NGOs, and labor and financial organizations. 

The Panel played a key role in the program’s design from the very beginning and continues to be integral to its evolution and implementation. The Panel plays an important role in the external verification of companies’ TSM reporting and it meets regularly with senior mining representatives to provide support and advice for TSM, identifies emerging issues for the sector, and encourages the mining industry to raise the bar in corporate responsibility. 

What are the TSM performance protocols?

Communities and people

  • Indigenous and community relationships 
  • Crisis management and communications planning 
  • Safety and health 
  • Preventing child and forced labour 

Environmental stewardship 

  • Tailings management 
  • Biodiversity conversation management 

Energy efficiency 

  • Climate change 


Participation in the TSM initiative, which drives evidence-based improvements in performance, is mandatory for all MAC members for their Canadian operations. MAC is helping to build capacity within the global mining industry by sharing its expertise in sustainable mining practices and freely shares the TSM initiative with mining association in other countries that are seeking tools to improve the environmental and social performance of their mining industries. In recent years, there has been growing global interest and uptake of TSM and has been adopted by mining associations of six continents. Sustainable mining is the right and the smart thing to have. Right because it means dignity and potential sustainable development for communities, smart because it flips potential risks into collaborative productivity for the mining company. Important work that requires solid skills and best practices for success. TSM standards are a great example of what responsible mining looks like. 

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