The Mining Industry and Sustainable Development


The minerals industry appreciates that whereas it mines and processes minerals to maintain and advance our standard of living, it must do so in a manner that protects the Earth and its environs so that the generations to come are not adversely impacted and can enjoy its bounties.



Although awareness to the Earth’s environment had become a prominent topic earlier, the concept of Sustainable Development (SD) did not become widespread until 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future, commonly known as the Brundtland Report. That report defined SD as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This basic definition holds to this day though several attempts have been made to modify it to fit the minerals industry. One such effort was the Milos Statement1 resulting from the 14th Annual General Meeting of the Society of Mining Professors and the First International Conference on Sustainable Development Indicators in the Minerals Industry, both held in May 2003, on the Island of Milos, Greece. The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration  (SME) was a participant in these meetings and adopted the Milos Statement, which addressed the entire minerals community and enunciated that:

  • Minerals are essential to meeting the needs of the present while contributing to a sustainable future, and that the

  • The minerals community will contribute to a sustainable future through the use of our scientific, technical, educational, and research skills in minerals, metals, and fuels.

The statement expounded that these goals would be achieved through professional responsibility, education, training and development, and communication.

Several conferences have been held (1992 to 2015) before and after the Milos meetings, with specific themes which corroborates the view that the mining industry has been making progress towards incorporating various attributes related to SD, and its commitment to SD goals:

  • Establishing the “3 pillars” of Sustainable Development—economic, environmental and social.

  • Publishing “Breaking New Ground: Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development.” This document discussed the issue of SD and mining at length, and provided an agenda for immediate and future actions by the minerals industry.

  • Developing a “Plan for Implementation,” comprising 10 chapters, and instituting criteria for measuring results.

  • Accentuating sustainability indicators, data evaluation and reporting, life-cycle assessment, and product stewardship.

  • Focusing on issues of benchmarking, SD value creation, operationalization of SD, creation of knowledge hubs, modeling, fiscal issues, and best practices and tools.

  • Presenting frameworks and tools for integrating sustainable development considerations into mine and plant design.

  • Attracting young professionals, since they are more amenable to accepting SD goals.

  • Incorporating sustainability into the educational process, and development, monitoring and assessment of SD criteria for mineral operations.

  • Integrating Economics, Community, Environment and Governance.

The above-listed themes underscore that the mining industry has been actively involved with SD almost from the beginning of the SD campaign and that many mining companies have cooperated, collaborated, and adopted new processes towards achieving its objectives.

It is clear the act of mining a finite resource is not a sustainable activity2. But it should be borne in mind that most of the communities where mining is conducted are sustained, in large part, by the mining operations. All industrial and many personal activities use mined minerals for a variety of applications and/or energy production. Thus mining has a significant positive impact on society in spite of its perceived detrimental consequences. Contemporary mining companies have incorporated SD into their long-term management strategies.

The development of new procedures and processes, use of new materials for manufacturing, greater emphasis on recycling, reclamation of old and current mining operations, cleaning up water discharges, improving air quality, and paying greater attention to health and safety, leaves future generations in an enhanced position and does not compromise their ability for a better life.

SME Statement of Technical Position

  • The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) imposed considerable environmental restrictions on the mining industry; SME has always reinforced strict adherence to the laws.

  • In 2002, SME established a Sustainable Development Committee to lead its efforts in this area and to propel the organization into global prominence.

  • SME is a signatory to the Milos Statement of 2003 on Sustainable Development, so it is committed to providing scientific, technical, educational, and research skills in minerals, metals, and fuels.

  • SME recognizes that SD programs adopted by the industry have a tangible return on investment through brand recognition and loyalty, facilitation of permitting, reduced occurrence of community protests and vandalism, and diminished political risks.

  • SME actively promotes educational programs that encourage professional growth and interaction with the engineering professional community through books, articles, symposia, short courses and/or conferences on sustainable development in the mining and minerals industries.

  • SME has developed abundant expertise to provide balanced advice to government bodies, congressional staff, and other interested organizations.

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