Sustainable development goals are strongly connected to the mining business.


The blog you are reading right now is a final output of the course “Geographies of Inequalities 2021, part of the course palette in Human geography / Univ. Helsinki. All the content is produced by students, incl. visualizations. The course was implemented together with the National Audit Office of Finland. The main learning objectives were to be able to critically evaluate sustainability dimensions and to understand the spillover effects of different policies in the context of global mining. The responsible teacher of the course was Associate prof. Pia Bäcklund and the key collaborating partner was deputy director Vivi Niemenmaa / NAOF Here you can find the short introductions to the four themes dealt with in this blog. In a blog, there is also a short intro post to the connections of the Agenda2030 program and mining business.

Exploring the Negative Impacts of Mining

Mining plays a central role in the global energy shift to more sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies. Minerals such as cobalt, lithium, nickel and copper are used in rechargeable batteries that are essential in green technologies such as electric cars, wind turbines and solar panels. Albeit green technologies are aiming to alleviate climate change and environmental issues, they also generate negative environmental and socio-economic impacts and spillovers globally. These side effects need to be taken into careful consideration. Otherwise, we won’t achieve the sustainable development goals set by the United Nation.

Recycling and Green Technologies

To reduce CO2 emission, especially in the EU context with the Paris Agreement, batteries become a source to produce energy on the way to a low-carbon future. The rise of the population, urbanization, technologies and innovation drive the consumption of the use of more and more products and the majority run by batteries. “Worldwide battery sales in 2019 are predicted to reach $120 billion, increasing at a rate of 7.7% annually” (Dehghani-Sanij et al. 2019). This demand has some different positive and negative impacts on the use of batteries.

Case Studies

Mining can never be fully sustainable in all three dimensions of being ecologically, socially and economically sustainable. At least one, often all areas, are somehow compromised. Still, many positive spillover effects can be linked to the mining industry especially when looking at the employment effect, which often contributes in terms of well-being to the whole community. 

In this text, we will take a closer look at the negative and positive impacts of the mining industry by presenting a few case studies from Finland and The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The spillover effects of the mining industry are diverse and appear differently in different societal contexts. In developing countries, where there is no reliable government and enforcement, mining appears to have more far-reaching negative than positive spillover effects on society. When researching, especially the positive spillovers of mining, we must remember to be extremely critical since the findings are often presented by the mining actors themselves. Therefore, the results might be manipulated to justify the action.

The Winners of Mining

The winners of mining tend to be centralized in the regions far away from the mines themselves. The newest innovations, wealthy lifestyle and wellbeing tend to concentrate in the urban areas of the world while the negative impacts of mining are felt elsewhere. Even with strong negative impacts on the local ecosystems and societies, the mining industry has the potential to become more sustainable and provide for wellbeing locally as well. This text presents the positive impacts that the mining industry has on different scales.

Essay Collection

Short Intro to the Theme

Mining and sustainability Text by Jessica Nielsen The most common definition of sustainable development is: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland, 1987). United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals represent the current global understanding on sustainable development (UN General Assembly, 2015). However, …

Recycling and Green Technologies​

The context of Circular Economy Text by Francesca Coveri The circular economy is about linking, generating, preserving value and answering the need for sustainable growth. Its objective is to change the classical product lifecycle conceived as “production-consumption-disposal”, extending the useful life of goods. Nowadays in Europe, each year, 15 tons of materials per capita is …


Text by Isaline Coquard and aku suoknuuti

The questions about sustainability and the attempt to establish a world with more equity between the three pillars of sustainability which are social, environmental and economical aspects. These aims were written within the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the member states of the United Nations in the frame of the Agenda 2030. The life cycle of batteries is linked with SDGs in different ways, with positive or negative impacts, and direct and indirect effects. If we take the example of cars, the electric vehicle will have a direct positive impact to reduce CO2 in comparison to usual cars which use gas. This decrease of CO2 is released by the electric power, in this way, there is a positive impact on SDG 13 due to the climate action by decreasing carbon emission. On the other hand, this decreasing permits to have some indirect effects on the atmosphere, and ocean in an environmental way (SDG 14). So, there will be an impact on humans because they could breathe better air with less Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and we could add the positive indirect impact on SDG 3. But, this goal is controversial by other negative impacts, for example on health when some people manipulate mineral and non-mineral components in battery processes. “However, an Indirect negative impact is assessed for SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). It is difficult to predict whether the transition from combustion to electric vehicles impacts economic growth, but there is a clear risk it negatively impacts the working environments and increases child labour in mining. Increased battery production requires increased mining of e.g. lithium and cobalt, and such mining activities have frequently been associated with poor working environments and child labour” (Chalmers, 2019).  

The mining processes draw some negative impacts especially in link with water resources. The extraction process of ores requires the use of water in addition to other toxic substances to separate the ores from the stone. These toxic substances can escape in nature and become the starting point of pollution. The negative effects affect SDG 13 and 14 contaminating the ecosystems and water reserves. Due to this impact on water, there are other indirect effects on SDG 6 and 3 because the water resource cannot be used by the population for their proper need, for their croplands. Finally, this contaminated water can have a negative indirect effect on the health of the population.

Battery issues included in the rise of the demand questions about the increased need for minerals in the frame of SDGs are huge questions especially in the circular economy pattern because today there are some controversial points between the positive and negative effects. Even so, we can see a real awareness due to some developments and innovations for batteries. For instance, the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment edited some goals for the future years in the SDGs aims, stating that “in 2025 the Finnish battery cluster will be a forerunner that provides skills, innovation, sustainable economic growth, well-being and jobs for Finland”. This sector aims to be more and more important in a sustainable way on a global scale. 


Dear reader,

I hope we managed to arouse some new thoughts or ideas in you with this blog. The great thing in science is that it’s not always about the answers – but setting out the questions. Our aim here was to address some of the challenges, which have to be taken into consideration while creating carbon neutral policies. As the previous paragraphs address, there are several environmental and social risks around the mining business. According to our findings, the cross-sectioning question is anyhow strongly related to geography – which part of the world should take care of these problems? As a part of the global north, we argue Finland should be responsible for the minerals we use, and the course seems to be on the right way. Our country has various inventions related to urban mining, and NAOF (which was in co-operation running this course) has just released a new paper that encourages Finland to the sustainable mining acts.


Chalmers, G. M. V. (2019). The SDG Impact Assessment Tool-a a free online tool for self-assessments of impacts on Agenda 2030. Policy, 1, 150-167.

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland. (2021). National Battery strategy 2025.