The Growing Popularity of Sustainable Mine Reclamation
Companies may reap potential rewards by considering the Triple Bottom Line business model, which bolsters sustainability through financial prosperity, environmental stewardship and social responsibility
By Wendy Schlett
Sustainable mine reclamation en-sures that the surface of the earth is not left to rejuvenate itself, thereby mitigating potentially contaminated and unusable land that previously lay fallow for ages by past mining reclama-tion practices. Now, new uses for mined land are being considered beforemin-ing even commences, and more oppor-tunities and emphases are being placed on thinking about these future uses with sustainability in mind.
Sustainable practices are growing in popularity, and not just for altruistic reasons. While these practices incorpo-rate the pace of a growing population that is informed and active in ensuring a thoughtful and careful approach to natural resources, they can also simply be more practical and fiscally sensible.
This aspect of sustainability is often unrecognized, but in fact the definition of sustainability is much more pragmat-ic. The concept of sustainability is not based on uncompromising idealism that requires the land to be left untouched by humans. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency de-scribes sustainability as “based on a simple principle: Everything we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our nat-ural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfill-ing the social, economic and other requirements of present and future gen-erations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials and resources to protect human health and our environment.”
A new business model, commonly known as the Triple Bottom Line, has evolved from the sustainability efforts pursued by progressive companies that focus on technology, information and new forms of value creation. The Triple Bottom Line incorporates the three pillars of sustainability—financial prosperity, environmental stewardship and social responsibility—and in this model these pillars work together to simulta-neously influence business decisions.
By paying attention to the Triple Bottom Line, organizations can effect positive change that includes enhanced public support, increased profitability, reduced and better controlled risk, minimized environmental impact, increased brand value and reputation, and overall improved global standing to operate and grow. Given all of these positive outcomes, it stands to reason that sustainable business models are growing in popularity.
Once it is understood that sustain-able practices work to meet several goals, it becomes easier to recommend and implement such practices. Mine reclamation can and should be re-examined from a sustainability frame-work. Especially given the current eco-nomic climate that has effectively nar-rowed the possibilities for viable mine reclamation projects, incorporating sus-tainable practices in mine reclamation will offer mineral producers financial, environmental and social benefits.
While not always possible, greater efficiencies can be realized if mine operators think about the reclamation process before mining even begins. This allows for the possibilities of re-using certain materials and doubling positive outcomes. Understanding the natural footprint of the land to be mined is also helpful toward achieving sustainability goals—by being more realistic about what the land can and cannot accomplish once it is mined will help to keep costs low and overall production and post-production efforts less arduous.
Identifying Specific Needs
In this line of thought, it makes sense that there is a movement within sustain-able mine reclamation to return the land to something not unlike its former self, rather than attempting to create some-thing brand new and unrecognizable. In many cases, this can be achieved by working in concert with the local com-munity to determine what their needs might be, and then repurposing the mined site to meet those needs.
As an example, the community surrounding a mined site may identify a new neighborhood park as a local need. By knowing this at the outset of developing and/or reclaiming the mined land, the organization and the community can work together harmo-niously to determine the vision and potential limitations of the project. Other options a community might con-sider as helpful alternatives to a former mined site could include a water reser-voir, viable industrial park, public recreational trails through a reforested area, or a similar project. For a mineral producer that can develop a positive relationship with the community in which it operates, and can identify a project that mutually benefits that community as well as the producer, more benefits abound. Good will and a reputation for social responsibility go a long way toward company growth and market advantage.
In addition to partnering with the local community, non-profit organiza-tions should be considered, as they offer resources toward sustainable mine reclamation projects as well. Working with groups such as The Wildlife Federation, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and other federal, state or local nongovern-mental agencies can help identify the best possible end use for the reclaimed mine—whether that be the creation of habitats that encourage biological diversity, endangered wildlife protec-tion, or an ecosystem that fosters the growth of local but rare plant species. These organizations can offer planning and expertise, and can also help with providing volunteer labor.
Additionally, partnerships between mine operators and nongovernmental organizations can provide economically positive outcomes. These partner organ-izations offer grant funding and tax or impact mitigation credits and incentive knowledge that can help make a sus-tainable mine reclamation project that much more financially feasible.
In addition to the options already mentioned, another option for reclaim-ing mined land sustainably is by creat-ing a wetland bank. This could qualify the land to generate wetlands credits. In this scenario, a pre-approved wet-land bank would allow developers and/or mine operators to secure wet-land mitigation credits for develop-ments that impact wetlands in other locations. The credits finance the development and maintenance of the sustainably reclaimed mine as a wet-land bank. Once established, the wet-land bank could then be donated to a non-profit organization such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for long-term maintenance and operation.
Carbon-offset opportunities are ano-ther sustainable end-use in the recla-mation of mined land. Carbon offsets reduce carbon dioxide or other green-house gas emissions in a balancing act to compensate for a carbon emission made elsewhere. Companies, govern-ments and other organizations that need to comply with carbon dioxide caps make up one of the markets for carbon offsets. Companies, govern-ments and individuals can also pur-chase carbon offsets to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions that result from everyday activities.
Afforestation and reforestation of a mining area are both specific types of carbon offset projects well-suited for sustainably reclaiming mined areas. In addition to the environmental benefits these projects produce—improved air and water quality, reduced soil erosion, and a generally lessened impact of global warming through carbon stor-age—afforestation or reforestation proj-ects can also offer new jobs, new streams of revenue, and improved local economies.
In one example, abandoned and previously reclaimed coal mines in the Appalachian region were reforested through a project that brought together the University of Kentucky, the U.S. Forest Service and the Office of Sur-face Mining and Reclamation Enforce-ment. These sites proved excellent locales for enhanced terrestrial carbon sequestration.
Sustainably reclaiming a mine can also benefit mine producers financially through their eligibility for other tax credits (especially the Brownfields tax credit), and through an increased value of the land. In one example, by trans-forming the land into an ecological landscape that promotes long-term preservation through land restriction and charitable donation, the land qual-ifies for a tax credit that can offset cor-porate profits. This type of project will also positively restore the land’s ecosys-tem, which will in turn increase the overall value of the land. If the land is then donated to the local community or a charitable organization, a higher tax credit for the land could be realized.
With the multitude of possibilities available toward reclaiming mined lands sustainably, it is no wonder that sustainable mine reclamation is grow-ing in popularity. Sustainable mine reclamation projects allow a mine pro-ducer to develop something new and worthwhile, that supports the organiza-tion’s goals and the betterment of the community in which they operate. Sustainable mine reclamation projects also create financial prosperity, envi-ronmental stewardship, and social ben-efits—thereby creating a positive Triple Bottom Line for the producer, the com-munity and the environment.
Wendy Schlett is a project manager for Sustainability, Environmental Management Systems and Environmental Regulatory Compliance at GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. (www.gza.com). For more information, contact Ms. Schlett at 616-956-6123 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ICMM Represents Mining at Rio+20
The mining industry demonstrates its commitment to sustainability
By Gina Tverdak-Slattery, Associate Editor
During the United Nations (U.N.) Conference on Sustainable Develop-ment, Rio+20, held June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, senior U.N. officials, world leaders, participants from govern-ments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, met to discuss how to achieve global prosperity while protecting the environment.
The event marked the 20th anniversary of the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environ-ment and Development and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. During the 1992 Earth Summit, countries adopted Agenda 21—a blueprint to rethink eco-nomic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.
Rio+20’s 283-paragraph outcome document “The Future We Want” renewed countries’ commitment to sus-tainable development and called for a wide range of actions. It focused on areas that needed priority attention including jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans, disaster readiness, as well as reducing poverty and advancing gender equality.
Although serious policy discussions unfolded at Rio+20, it concluded without committing nations to any binding tar-gets on sustainability. Many countries were left wondering what exactly a “green economy” meant and many felt the final document lacked detail and ambition. But, despite the lack of commitments, the mining sector shined with examples of continuous improvement in sustain-ability over the course of 20 years.
Mining’s Contribution to
During Rio+20, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) launched the first in a series of seven publications. The first publication, “Mining’s contribution to sustainable development: an overview,” describes mining and metals’ contribution to sus-tainable development. Two other publi-cations were released during the confer-ence, while the remaining four will be launched from July to November.
The ICMM was formed in 2001 to cat-alyze improved performance and enhance the contribution of mining, minerals and metals to sustainable development. Today, it brings together 22 mining and metals companies, as well as 34 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations. ICMM engages with governments, international organizations, communities and indige-nous peoples organizations, investors, civil society and academia. It works with leading companies to strengthen the con-tribution of mining, minerals and metals to sustainable development.
In many countries, mining and metals activities are effectively managed to ensure that a positive overall benefit is achieved. But in some countries, resources have been misused and squan-dered, fueling conflict and political unrest. There have been disputes over land use, property rights and environ-mental damage, concerns about revenue transparency and corruption, and a grow-ing debate about the distribution of the benefits of mineral wealth. Tensions within communities and regions have often been the result. And, in the extreme, there has been conflict.
Mining is a key contributor to econom-ic growth and improved material quality of life. With its need for both skilled and unskilled labor, its links to regional infra-structure and service development as well as the importance of the products that it produces, means it can make a contribu-tion to sustainable development.
If well-managed, mining and metals activities can provide lasting opportuni-ties for economic growth and develop-ment. ICMM believes society must con-tinue to improve the way it extracts, processes and uses metals in order to make a positive, long-term contribution to people and the environment.
At the heart of the concept of sustainable development lies the idea thatany human activity, including mining, should be undertaken in such a way that the activi-ty itself and the products produced pro-vide a positive long-term contribution to human and ecosystem well-being.
ICMM believes the focus is not on how mining can be sustainable but on how mining, minerals and metals can con-tribute to sustainable development. The industry has a key role to play in capturing and communicating the full value of its mining and processing activities and prod-ucts. This approach was first championed by the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development project in 2002, a project that undertook a far-reaching examination of industry practices and contributed to the decision by leaders in the mining industry to form ICMM.
Mine projects are a source of liveli-hood and well-being for millions of peo-ple. For emerging nations they attract for-eign direct investment, domestic invest-ment, foreign earnings and government revenues. At the local level they provide an opportunity for employment, provide goods and services needed by mining activities, and contribute to infrastruc-ture and services in the local community.
Often in remote areas, mining can stimulate local economic activity. However, local social and environmental implications are significant and can result in major socio-economic chal-lenges. When mismanagement occurs (whether by government, company or community), the resulting impact can be adverse and severe. If a perceived or real inequitable distribution of costs, bene-fits, risks and responsibilities occurs, tensions can split a community, under-mine a company’s reputation and at worst, lead to conflict.
While minerals and metals provide a material foundation for contemporary society, they are also a means for trans-forming current society into one marked by greater efficiencies, lower environ-mental stresses and more effective pub-lic services. Just as the businesses that produced them must be carefully man-aged, so too should the contribution these products can make to en-sure that the benefits from their usage are realized.
Change and Progress in the
Mining and Metals Industry
Achieving positive change in the mining and metals industry so it can adjust to its evolving operating environment is a sig-nificant challenge for those inside and outside the sector. When managed responsibly and effectively, and in a con-text of good governance, mining and met-als production can contribute meaning-fully to an improvement in living stan-dards, particularly in communities direct-ly impacted by these operations.
In the late 1990s, CEOs from some of the world’s leading mining companies launched an effort to reposition the industry in terms of both performance and perception. Faced with a ground-swell of public criticism, it commis-sioned the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) to undertake a global review of practices and develop an agenda for strengthening the industry’s contribution to sustainable development. Some 50,000 people from around the world participated in the resulting process that came to be known as the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) project. Out of that review emerged an agenda for change to strengthen the contribution of mining, minerals and metals to sustain-able development. ICMM was created in 2001 to facilitate delivery of that agenda working with its members and others in pursuit of continuous performance improvement.
From an ICMM perspective, the fol-lowing 10 indicators highlight how the industry has changed markedly over the past decade.
1. Reporting and assurance: Among leading companies there is now full acceptance and familiarity with annual reporting of performance against sustain-able development principles using an independent third-party assured process. There has also been a steep increase in interest on the part of investors in the social and environmental performance of mining and metals companies, as well as the development of initiatives such as the Equator Principles and the IFC Performance Standards.
2. Mining and development: More and more developing and emerging nations are finding that the role of mining and metals in their national economies can be a positive factor, that their dependen-cy on mining and metals for economic strength is growing and that mining and metals can play a key role in addressing poverty reduction and other develop-mental issues. Companies are accepting this developmental role, though the boundaries of responsibility between company, community and government remains a concern.
3. Revenue transparency: Today’s support for enhanced revenue trans-parency, as reflected in the commitment by governments, companies, investors and civil society organizations to the Extractive Industries Transparency In-itiative, did not exist a decade ago.
4. Human rights: The committed focus on human rights by mining compa-nies has increased significantly in the last decade, and the industry is now con-sidered to be one of the leaders though many significant challenges remain.
5. Environment: Environmental man-agement systems with a substantive focus on performance related to critical issues such as biodiversity protection and water management are now accepted pri-orities of most mining companies.
6. Health and safety: Clear progress on the introduction of systems that emphasize a health and safety culture. Significant reductions in lost-time injury incidents year-on-year have been achieved as well as similar improvements in occupational health. The industry still faces the challenge of eliminating fatali-ties in work-related accidents.
7. Climate change: The mining and metals industry’s committed entry into the climate change arena through engagement at the country level by both companies and national associations, regional association engagement in Europe and ICMM’s championing of a generic set of principles for guiding the development of climate change-related public policy, represents a significant change. Closely linked to this is ongoing work on enhancing energy efficiencies, reducing carbon emissions contributing more effectively to local energy needs, and recognizing the role of minerals and metals in a low carbon economy.
8. Relationship building and shared value: The industry’s recognition of the importance of relationship building and the creation of shared value—for communities, companies and govern-ments—reflects a dramatic change to previous business approaches. Unfortunately, there are many locations where this degree of trust does not exist.
9. Full project life cycle, long time horizon: Recognition by the industry, communities, civil society and govern-ment to consider the full project life cycle—from exploration through to the long post-closure period—in a mine’s design and financial analysis reflects a major evolution. The impact of this life cycle approach on a project’s technical, financial, environmental and social out-comes remains to be seen. Addressing legacy and orphaned sites is being resolved slowly in most countries.
10. Sustainability footprint and tracking responsible performance across the full life cycle: Initially driven by concerns over illicit support of factions in conflict areas (blood diamonds), the increased interest in tracking performance across the full product life cycle of metal and metal products, has resulted in a strong focus on life cycle assessment. The development of an integrated “sustain-ability footprint” would not have been considered necessary a decade ago.
Mining and metals operations bring significant change—social, environmental and economic. According to ICMM, its series of publications is recognizing the role of the industry as an agent of change. They begin to describe the design and performance criteria needed to ensure that the net result of the industry’s impact is positive over the long term.
Seven Questions to Sustainability
In its reforestation efforts for the Juruti bauxite mine, Alcoa is using a natural
method that is more efficient, cost-effective and sustainable than traditional
reforestation methods. (Photo courtesy of Alcoa)
Alcoa is using a new, natural method for reforestation at its Juruti bauxite mine in Brazil that is efficient, cost effective and sustainable. The technique is based on the theory of nucleation, where small dense nuclei of plants and animals facilitate the arrival of other species. At Juruti, birds and other elements of nature are helping recover the soil rather than traditional reforestation, which works the soil and then
“The nucleation method restores the environment in a short amount of time, leading to greater richness in biodiver-sity,” said Pedro Pinto, Alcoa Environment, Health and Safety manager for the Juruti bauxite mine. “It benefits the forma-tion of the soil by keeping the micro-environment more humid. This technique also reduces the need for using machinery, resulting in lower use of diesel oil and emissions.”
The natural nucleation approach to reforestation was created by Professor Ademir Reis of Brazil’s Federal University of Santa Catarina. Techniques used include arti-ficial shelters for animals; perches to attract birds and bats, which deposit seeds and help trees to germinate alone; lay-ing out seeds, roots, branches and small tree trunks to stim-ulate the natural regeneration of species, which attracts animals and creates a food chain in the restoration process; and ecological stepping-stones of small refuges for fauna inside crop plantations.
“The nucleation system is cheaper and ecologically more efficient because it makes the worked areas ‘look for’ its sus-tainability in a spontaneous way,” said Professor Reis. The Juruti bauxite mining area is among the first places in Brazil to use the nucleation method of environmental conservation. Alcoa began using the technique last August on a 175-acre (70 hectares) area there. In about two years, the area will have an understory favorable to the introduction of new species, like Brazil nut trees, andiras, trumpet trees, copaibas and others..