The Search for Mining Sustainability

Have you ever thought about changing the world? Being the brave one who makes the difference, contributing with your grain of sand? Most probably yes, and thereafter noticed this coin has two sides. The first one is that you believe the solution is so simple: just educate, organize, have more respect, be more fair, no more corruption, BE SUSTAINABLE… And when you start to look for the best way of doing it, the implementation, then you notice that there are 7.400 millions of humans on Earth and you need to tell everyone your idea and try to explain why we should follow the change. That is the second side of the coin.

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to start making the change with the support of the University of Helsinki and Outotec. We are a group of enthusiast young students, researchers and workers (and most probably all at the same time) with very different backgrounds, working together to take the challenge of making mining sustainable.

We aim at solving a problem that affects everyone either directly or indirectly even if mining may seem distant from our everyday lives. How would developing a disruptive business model for mining increase sustainability? As you probably know, mining can have a huge impact on the environment, societies, and economy. History has demonstrated the destructive power of minor errors if the processes are not adequately controlled. Most mining projects are located in small towns where local people do not see all the benefits of mining, and may rather regard it as an invasion. We decided to set our targets high and solve this problem, and we will do our best to succeed and bring benefits for everyone. The figure below describes the starting point of our journey.

During the first weeks of research we have found several interesting facts and recent developments related to the mining industry, recycling, energy consumption, and use of resources. Bullet points summarize the main points.

  • A huge amount of literature has been published concerning moving the industry towards sustainability.
  • The biggest problems of mining are water related.
  • Huge social problems between local people and the mining industry.
  • According Porter & Kramer, capitalism should be reinvented to put focus on creation of shared value.
  • Circular economy including extended lifetimes, reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling seems vital together with increased efficiency, decreased consumption, and replacement of metals with bio-materials
  • 100% recycling rate of materials is not possible, hence mining industry may always be needed at some level.
  • We found that material consumption is related to lifestyle choices: the more you consume the bigger amount materials is needed.
  • One of the most important discoveries was when we tried to respond to the question: who are the key stakeholders? And we can summarize our response today as, everyone and everything.

Developing a sustainable business model for mining is not an easy task, especially because we are talking about a sector that is non-renewable by nature. Unsustainability is inherent, but after reading, researching, discussing, and presenting the different points of view, we believe that it is possible to carry out the business of mining. Only revolutionary transition shall take place first.

One day you say “I need to challenge myself” and you have a missions of “doing something great,” so what is our advice? DO IT! The world will thank you.


Gold Rush: Elina Salo, Germán Fernandez, Jack Räisänen, Noora Oikarinen, Panu Maula and Suvi Suojanen

Mine + local community = ?

For the past thirty years, there has been a significant increase in environmental legislation and regulation of mining. Lately the mining companies have also become more aware of the possibility of costly conflicts due to social issues. Social conflicts may arise in spite of the economic benefits the mining operations bring to the local communities. Due to the raise of awareness around the world, the mining industry is facing new challenges regarding how to ensure profitability together with inclusive operations and development.

The social license to operate (SLO) concept was introduced in the mid 90´s and the mining industry was one of the firsts to utilize it, mainly to manage the aroused social risks. Previous case studies implicate that there are several good ways of gaining and obtaining SLO. These include e.g. early and ever ongoing communication, transparency and availability of information and consideration of the local culture in decision making. The bodies that can give SLO to a company are often the societies closest to the actual site of mining operations. But does this actually work in practice? How challenging is the implementation of guidelines at sites? Are the mining companies actually walking the talk?

Our group believes the issue is not whether mining should take place or not, rather than how and where it should happen. It is about reforming the ways of mining operations to ensure environmentally and socially acceptable mining in that specific location.

Adjusting to new ways of thinking can be difficult and unfortunately there is not one universal formula for mining companies to gain and maintain SLO. And even well designed and carefully executed projects may not be successful. But one thing is sure, the SLO can only be born when good relationships between different stakeholders are established with time. That is why we wonder; what makes mining company equitable in the eyes of the community? Can a mining company actually fit in to the society or is it always going to be an outsider?

Written by,
Team Fidel: Dukpa Rebecca, Karjalainen Emmi, Kemppainen Jenni, Pakkanen Taru, Sainio Tuomas, Vänttinen Kirsikka

Social Sustainability and Social License To Operate in the Mining Industry: Is Win-win Possible?

The goods we utilize everyday appear as mundane, ubiquitous, and even intimate. Thus, have you thought where these everyday products origin from? Have you thought of how many minerals and metals there needs to be extracted and utilized to make the products? And what this extraction of minerals implies in practice for all the stakeholders involved in these mining processes? Ethical consumption, awareness of environmental impact of products, and transparency of companies are today much after sought information for consumers. Retail companies are publishing environmental and social reports about their actions and products. However, the reports do not always include information of obtaining of raw materials for their product, one example is Samsung’s life-cycle assessment of mobile phones. The report suggests that the obtaining of raw-materials for phones is responsible for 52,6% of the environmental impact for phones, but it does not suggest what the reason is for the high percentage. The increasing demand of minerals and metals, with the concurrent consumer demand for ethical mining practices, have put the mining industry in a tough situation.

Whilst the market is demanding more production resources from our common utilities, the local communities affected by mining operations are protesting these actions. To address these issues, we have set up an interdisciplinary group as part of the Sustainability Master Class program facilitated by the University of Helsinki, Helsinki Think Company, Demos Helsinki and Outotec in co-operation. Our group, referred upon as Mind Miners, aspires to lend a helping hand to the mining industry in the journey of becoming socially sustainable. Our aim is to assist the industry by providing them with a practical framework of tools applied the establishment and maintenance of a social license to operate (SLO). The SLO is one of the proposed means to satisfy society’s expectations regarding mining issues, which are often not met in full legal compliance with state regulation.

Mining town in the Peruvian Andes (Photo by: Frank_am_Main/Flickr)

Unlike other businesses, the location of mine is based on the minerals found in bedrocks. Therefore, the mining industry is faced with problems from local communities defending their land against the industry. In terms of social sustainability, the locational choices of the mines might lead to quarrels with the local stakeholders involved. Peru can be mentioned as an example. Although the mining industry has increased the economic growth with 6%, it has not improved the local life, therefore, the locals are disappointed. In many cases the communication with different stakeholders has been inefficient resulting in a general mistrust in the company. The operations might even lament the wishes of the local communities.  These examples underline the importance of careful considerations of the social issues related to mining operations. This implies not only the proper respect of labor rights within the mine, but on a broader scale the inclusion of all of those possibly affected by the operations.

SLO is not only beneficial to the society but also for the company. Both the company and the society can achieve shared benefit by having mutual trust and understanding. An effectively designed SLO will help to improve the living standards of the people located nearby the mining area and reduce and/or eliminate the negative social, environmental, and economic impacts. On the other hand, mining sector can enhance their image with different stakeholders and have uninterrupted mining operations. By having good relation with the key local stakeholders mining companies can enjoy both short term and long term benefits. The SLO is particularly supportive in case of disasters at the mining site. Accidents happen, but if the SLO is not tuned properly then the actions of the mines might be shot down by the local community. Losing the SLO might mean losing the mine totally.

It is nicer to live with neighbors that you get along with, than with people you can’t stand.

Therefore, is it important to remember to lift the positive aspects of the mining industry forth, rather than expressing the negative aspects. Mining has been around for centuries, and creates jobs in rural areas where unemployment rates otherwise would be high. As John Maynard Keynes said “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”. We wish to break old ways of thinking and find nearest route to a solution where everyone benefits for mining industries when obtaining SLO’s. Most importantly it is to remember to listen to the wishes of the local communities and to assess the relevance of different stakeholders. Even if the locals do not have too much power to influence the business itself, their opinion is vital for miners to operate. It can almost be compared to a neighbor feud. It is nicer to live with neighbors that you get along with, than with people you can’t stand. The same could be said about mining. Without stakeholder’s trust the operations would be difficult and problematic.

Written by
Mind Miners: Aryal Nabin, Fustioni Pirke, Häkkinen Anu, Ikonen Anna, Nieminen Lotta, Sarttila Emmi and Vehmaanperä Paula