Mining is as indispensable now as it has been throughout human history. In today’s world, mining is a significant contributor to the global economy and an enabler of innovation. It gives us access to the essential resources we need for industries like construction, energy, transportation, and manufacturing. As the next Energy Transition looms, that list will expand to include technologies and industries we have yet to even think of, let alone invent. However, we know that mining is hard on the environment, raising obvious concerns about its sustainability.

Sustainable mining is a concept that aims to balance the economic benefits with environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the practice, and miners are moving quickly to adopt sustainable, future-focused operations. At a high level, sustainable mining involves integrating environmental, social, and economic factors throughout the mining process, from exploration to mining and export. This includes reducing the environmental impacts, decarbonisation, improving safety, and ensuring that mining activities benefit local communities economically and socially. With so much riding on it, it’s crucial that miners step up with improved efficiency and reduced costs while maintaining a “social license” to operate. In this way, it can continue to play its role in reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and driving sustainable growth.


Facing up to the Challenges

Unsurprisingly, there are still quite a few hurdles in the way of sustainable mining, now with the added pressure of increased public awareness. 


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

Climate, Environmental, & Social 

While miners unearth the critical minerals that will enable the global decarbonisation effort, they themselves are under the pump to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Shareholders, stakeholders and the public are increasingly focused on the social and community impact of mining. Remote communities are keen for economic and social growth but want mining companies to leave a lasting positive legacy.


Safety & Health

Mining remains a risky business, and whether it’s open-pit or underground, there are ever-present hazards to the health and safety of workers. This simple fact can make it hard to attract people into vital roles, especially those in younger generations. Digitalisation and connectivity mitigate the problem to a degree, while smartphones and wearables are two of the physical innovations improving safety on (or under) the ground. 


Skills Shortages

Many industries are experiencing skills shortages post-COVID, but mining is particularly susceptible. Maintenance is one area of high demand, requiring specialist skill sets that take years to learn and develop. As trade enrollments fall away, miners are hard-pressed to find people capable and willing to keep their fleets and plants fully operational.


Mining a Sustainable Frontier

In reality, mining must adapt and move with the pace of change worldwide. This means following through on the shift to sustainable practices while continuing to meet the rising demand for its products. Combined, miners face a significant challenge. Companies and shareholders must meet these challenges head-on or risk being left behind in the high-pressure and now highly scrutinised sector. Implementing policies and regulations at the government level is helpful, but executing new on-site practices requires more work.


But, If miners can get it right, the benefits are worth it, including:

  • Significant tax revenues for national and local governments
  • Improved international investment attraction internationally
  • Providing many job opportunities during construction and into operation
  • Benefits to host communities, including infrastructure, essential services, and communications networks
  • Stimulation for associated businesses like transport and waste recycling
  • Producing economic spin-offs in areas with scarce employment opportunities and limited economic activity
  • Generating a source of income for many people, somewhat reducing poverty levels
  • Mining also enables an expanding list of “green” technologies.


While it’s a complex topic, sustainable mining is a realistic goal, one that will, in turn, secure the future of miners and associated industries.


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