Hide this alert
InfoMine Home

Responsible & Sustainable Mining 

Authors: Priyadarshi Hem (Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering - University of British Columbia), and Jack Caldwell (Robertson GeoConsultants)

Revised: January 2012


This review provides an overview of responsible and sustainable mining. It looks at the terms, their meaning, and their use, and gives several links to publications and websites dealing with sustainable mining and development.


Most mining companies seek a social license to mine. Many mining companies have adopted the term sustainable mining to spearhead their pursuit of a social license to mine. Some have gone further and have adopted the term responsible mining to describe the way they operate.

In this review, we look at the terms, their meaning, their use and abuse, and point you to some of the better resources on the web that carry the topic further - and into any level of detail you may seek.


In my view, any opportunities in the area of sustainability is very challenging and requires a good knowledge of society, government and the industry. Mining companies are always looking for personnel in Community Relations and Legal Advisors for the purpose of following and maintaining sustainability guidelines.


Ideally a mining company should secure the support of the people who live near and are affected by a mine. This concept is referred to as the social licence to mine.

Bluntly stated if a mining company does not have the support of the people impacted by the mine, they may never get to mine, or it will cost them a lot more to mine than it should.

One of the better papers describing the philosophy of a social license to mine is by Nelson and Scoble, Social License to Operate Mines: Issues of Situational Analysis and Process.

The legal issue involved, at least in British Columbia are discussed by D. Anthony Knox. He states "Mining companies globally can no longer rely only upon their mineral titles to proceed with mine development. Major mining companies know that unless they continuously demonstrate corporate social responsibility, they will fail to gain from mine neighbors the appropriate level of local support that constitutes the 'social license' to mine."

As critical an assessment of what it takes to secure a social license to mine is in a presentation by MiningWatch. They say "If I want a driver's license or a firearm license, I have to pass a series of tests designed to show my understanding of the responsibilities conferred by that license and my ability to meet its conditions. I don't see why the "social license" to mine should be any different."

My personal view, and the one that underpins this review is that to secure the intangible, to be considered in possession of that which does not exist, namely a social license to mine, you should at least:
  • Act in accordance with the highest principles of mining ethics.
  • Do and be seen to be doing things in accordance with the principles of responsible mining (see next section of this review.)
  • At least attempt to develop the mine in accordance with the principles of sustainable development (see final section of this review and a long paper I keep current in order to tell stories of sustainable mining.)

I have written extensively on this topic in other places. With a co-author, I once put together a ramble of thoughts on responsible mining and sustainable development. It may amuse you.

Or if you are religious and think that mining should be done in accordance with your religious beliefs---and maybe you are correct---see what I wrote at this link.


You can do no better than start with an easy introduction to the subject by Republic of Mining, a blog utterly devoted to the mining industry. Then move onto Wikipedia on this topic. Next move on to the Global Reporting Initiative site, and specifically their guidance for the mining industry. Take a look at the International Forum for Sustainable Development Indicators in the Minerals Industry. Finally, see how Freeport-McMoRan did it in 2007. Watch out from there on, for it all gets rather muddled with sustainability reporting and other vague terms.


ICMM (International Council on Mining & Metals):

The ICMM was established in 2001 to improve sustainable development performance in the mining & metals industry. Today ICMM brings together 21 of the world's leading mining and metals companies as well as 32 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations to address the core sustainable development challenges faced by the industry. All ICMM members are required to implement the Sustainable Development Framework. This includes integrating a set of 10 principles and seven supporting position statements into corporate policy, as well as setting up transparent and accountable reporting practices. ICMM conducts an annual assessment of the progress that each member company is making against these performance commitments. The resulting annual member performance assessment is published in ICMM's Annual Review (Source: ICMM, December 2011).

IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development)

IISD is a Canadian-based, public policy research institute set out for developing practical principles, criteria and or indicators that could be sued to guide and test mining and mineral properties in term of their compatibility with sustainable development. The Seven Questions to Sustainability (7QS) Assessment Framework developed by IISD provides an excellent criterion to assess a company on the platform of sustainability.


In 2003, Tiffany & Co, EARTHWORKS, and the World Wildlife Fund brought together NGOs, retailers, investors, insurers, and technical experts to discuss environmental, human rights, and social issues associated with mining and mined products and to establish a basis for responsible sourcing and investing. They produced the Framework for Responsible Mining.

The approach adopted in the report is based on these principles:

Sustainable Development (see further in a later section of this technology review): This is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their need.

Equity: This means fairness in the distribution of costs benefits of development, as well as in the treatment of women and other traditionally marginalized groups.

Participatory Decision Making: This means that all citizens have the right to participate in natural resource development decisions, which must be accompanied by effective access to information and opportunity to seek redress and accountability if agreements are not respected.

Accountability & Transparency: This means that mining companies should support independent monitoring and oversight and disclose the impacts of their operations.

Precaution: This implies that governments have the right to decide against promoting development and to establish regulations to prevent serious environmental degradation when development does proceed.

Efficiency: This implies greater efficiency in the use of energy and water, maximizing reuse and recycling of materials, and minimizing waste.

Polluter Responsibility: Individuals and corporations responsible for generating pollution are responsible for paying for cleanup and environmental restoration.

These basic rights are woven into the practice of responsible mining:

Human Rights: All human beings regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, race, religion, political views, or sexual orientation are entitled to universal claims that cannot be taken away or exchanged.

Labor Rights: The right to freedom of association, the abolition of forced labor, equality, workplace health and safety, and the elimination of child labor.

Right to Development: Government should ensure that development is based on the free and fair participation of all citizens and the equitable distribution of benefits.

Right to a Healthy Environment: The right of present and future generations to enjoy a health environment and a decent quality of life.

Indigenous Peoples Rights: The right to exist as a peoples, self-determination, control over territory, cultural integrity, political organization and expression, and fair compensation for damage to the lands.

Women's' Rights: Eliminate disparities in the treatment of men and women.


In mid-August 2008, the front page of Fort McMurray Today carried a long article on the call by the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that Royal Dutch Shell's use of the word "sustainable" to describe their oil sands projects is both misleading and ambiguous.

Here is a link to another good web report on the finding. They say:

The ASA ruling says: "Because 'sustainable' was an ambiguous term, and because we had not seen data that showed how Shell was effectively managing carbon emissions from its oil sands projects in order to limit climate change, we concluded that on this point the ad was misleading."

Shell countered:

Shell's sustainability report states that it relies upon the definition of "sustainable development" as outlined by the Brundtland Commission, a European Commission body, in 1987, which includes economic and social developments as well as protecting the environment. It claimed this definition would be understood by Financial Times' readers. The ASA disagreed, because the emphasis of its advertisement was on environmental sustainability and managing climate change.

Stand by. For this is just the beginning of a completely new wave of linguistic and verbal acrobatics as we try to find neutral yet descriptive terms to justify our actions.

Here are some sites where you will find lots of stuff on sustainable development. Read on, but be selective and careful - much of it is plain hyperbole and guff.

Financing for Sustainable Development - an archived e-discussion from the World Bank's Development Forum on the topic of financing for sustainable development.

ICMM - including a drafted working document on the mineral industry and sustainable development (see under Publications - General)

Journey of a baby soul seed is an extraordinary blog by a young lady from Oliver, BC and Perth, Australia on sustainable mining. I cannot access any of their writings, but who knows, she may be your cup of tea; consider her opening sentence "Precious and base metal mining projects can serve as a stepping-stone in moving the mining industry towards achieving compliance with a scientific-principled definition of global socio-ecological sustainability."

Land Access and Sustainable Development - Manitoba Mine's Branch Land Access Action Plan.

Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) - a project of research and consultation seeking to understand how the mining and minerals sector can contribute to the global transition to sustainable development.

Mining and Environment Research Network (MERN) - a collaborative research network that has done a lot of work on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, etc.

Natural Resources Canada; Mineral and Metals Policy - with discussion related to sustainable development and the Whitehorse Mining Initiative

Natural Resources and Sustainable Development - Mineral Resources Forum - a public forum for information and communication concerning natural resources and their interface with the economy, the environment and society.

Rio Tinto has many sustainable development reports for 2007 at this link. Good stuff if you subscribe to the concept that a sustainable development report should include information about financial performance, corporate governance, social interaction, and development strategy. I suppose the word sustainable is a good an umbrella as any for these diverse concepts.

Sustainable Mining Practices by R. Rajaram, V. Rajaram, S. Dutta, and K Parameswaran is a fascinating book. Its quality varies immensely from one chapter to another; its story varies across the pages; and its message is mixed. But if you ignore the silly title, there is lots of interesting and basic engineering information that make it worth getting the book. But forget about this as an epic on sustainable mining. The idea/ideal soon gets lost in the facts.

Sustainable Minerals Institute - an industry-government-university partnership to bring together and refocus the minerals related academic departments and research centers at the University of Queensland in Australia - adopting a sustainability focus.

Sustainable Development and Mining - A presentation by L. Skaer for the Northwest Mining Association

Sustainable Development - A Government's Approach - The UK government's second annual report is available consisting of a review of the progress towards sustainable development in 2001 (published on 13 March 2002).

Teck's Sustainability Report gives a good presentation of sustainability principles followed in a company.

The Canadian Center for Research in Sustainable Mining is the final and saddest story in this compilation. The University of British Columbia tried to use the concept as a way to expand. They failed. At the link is the story.

The Mining Association of Canada has a 2006 report Towards Sustainable Mining Progress Report. No progress in 2007 or 2008 that I can find.

World Wide Fund for Nature - Australia & Placer Dome Inc. - working together are evaluating the potential for an independent third party certification scheme to assess the environmental and social performance of mineral operations.

World Business Council for Sustainable Development - a coalition of 150 international companies united by a shared commitment to sustainable development.

Environmental Reporting Criteria for the Mining, Water, Energy and Retail sectors presents criteria developed by WWF in consultation with industry representatives.

| Back To Top |






EduMine Courses



Publications Search