Why the push for responsibly produced metal matters

By Allen Jack

Last month, Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto announced its new line of responsibly produced aluminium.

The ethically sourced metal was certified by the independent body Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) and smelted at Rio Tinto’s hydro-electric facilities in Australia and New Zealand. Formed in 2009, ASI is, according to its website, “a global group of stakeholders from the aluminium industry, civil society, research and policy organisations”. Receipt of these certificates assures customers that a company’s standards are high enough to guarantee the top echelon of quality and manufacturing ethics. Upon certification that its products meet these requirements, ASI CEO Fiona Soloman congratulated Rio Tinto for an “ongoing commitment to encouraging the uptake of ASI’s standards across the aluminium and manufacturing supply chain”.

Key metrics of responsible mining

Although ASI specialises in the aluminium sector, its monitored criteria provides interesting insight into key areas that mining companies can focus on for every variety of metals.

Human rights: As a high-risk profession, mining companies must be diligent to ensure that hazards and workplace accidents are minimised, discrimination or harrassment is addressed immedialtey, and labour rights are protected.

Environmental impact: An unavoidable consequence of the mining/extraction process is environmental impact. The manner in which operations are carried out can have a significant effect on quality of life for the native population, so companies must factor in multiple considerations, including water access, pollution, and road traffic.


Social development: The well-being of communities stationed near a mining operation should be of paramount importance. An influx of new workers can place strains on key areas of infrastructure, such as healthcare and public transport. This may also have a knock-on effect of increasing the prices of basic amenities. Giving priority to local procurement, employment and training can instigate a wealth of benefits that stay with an area long after a mine closes.

Green innovations are revolutionising mining

Whilst the aforementioned criteria are vital to a mine’s daily operations, they don’t tell the full story of ‘responsibly produced’ metals. Today, ‘good for the planet’ translates as ‘good for business’, and the mining sector has not been idle in searching for ways to increase their sustainability. 

Switching to hybrid/alternative fuel vehicles where possible, reclamation projects to convert old mines into wildlife sanctuaries or parks, and effective dust control policies are all effective strategies to embrace a cleaner, better way of working. 

Always proactive in its approach, Rio Tinto partnered with Chinese steel producer China Baowu Steel Group and Tsinghua University in 2019 to develop a plan for improving environmental performance across the whole steel manufacturing chain.

By securing the prestigious credentials of ASI, Rio Tinto has shown how seriously some of the heavy-hitters in the mining world are taking ethical and environmental responsibility. CEO Alf Barrios said, “It continues our leadership on responsible aluminium production from mine to metal, so that our customers can meet the growing demand from consumers for sustainably sourced materials.” 

With the company performing healthily on the FTSE 100, it appears that the market agrees with Rio Tinto’s ethos, and this, we should hope, means that responsibly produced metal will soon become an industry standard.


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