The Versatility of Sustainability

The Sustainability Master Class, organised by the University of Helsinki, is well connected with Outotec’s sustainability mission and the sustainability-related challenges, with which Outotec’s value chain is faced.

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly powerful and complex driver in the metals and mining sector. In addition to environmental impacts, or resource-use related issues of the sector, there are also social, human-related impacts, far more difficult to define and to measure. It is becoming increasingly important for companies to start proactively integrating these issues in their strategies, risk management, technological development, human resources, supply chain management and many other functions.

Cooperating with the University of Helsinki will give Outotec a great advantage both of getting access to different branches of science simultaneously and thus a truly interdisciplinary approach, but also to young students and their out-of-the-box thinking. A combination of fresh thinking, interdisciplinarity and scientific robustness will indeed foster a field of new innovation in sustainability in our business environment.

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I think content-wise, we have managed to capture some large trends, as well as opportunities and risks of the sector. These form three (strongly interlinked) challenges, for which the participants would try to find solutions.

The first challenge relates to the social license to operate, including social impacts of metals and mining, but heavily linked with the environmental impacts.

The second challenge, covering technology leapfrogging, is an interesting concept in context of the metals and mining sector. It allows the adoption of cleaner, state-of-the art technology, where prior technology has not been adopted yet, thus leaping over resource-intensive, dirtier technologies.

Given my own background, I firmly believe, that both of these above mentioned challenges, if dealt with responsibly and strategically, will be sources of competitive advantage. This leads to the third challenge, which comprises of the business case for sustainability – or strategic sustainability, as I call it sometimes. Instead of seeing sustainability as a mere cost factor, or compliance issue, we should start seeing it as a competitive edge. Saving earth’s natural resources means that we are saving energy and raw materials, leading directly to cost savings – and to more profitable business.

Developing solutions, with reduced risks for the surrounding society will have a direct business impact as well, since the continuity of operations is more certain and penalty payments might not occur. Being able to meet the tightening environmental/social legislation is something that some of the customers already require.

Also investors are setting certain requirements and this has an impact on the stock price. I guess this is the ultimate sign of sustainability becoming a business issue – investors are quick and agile in finding ways to improve the return on their investments. Even though with a very rational, mathematical and profit-focused approach, the enthusiasm of investors in sustainability is clearly a sign of the markets appreciating responsible and sustainable activities. In fact, I don’t mind under which label sustainable actions are being compartmentalized – environmental improvements, social acceptance, or financial gains – as long as these lead to concrete actions reducing the strain we have been causing so far.

Working with these issues with the participants will be an action for cross-pollinating ideas, awareness and know-how between Outotec, University of Helsinki and all participants from amazingly different backgrounds. I was happy to see a list of so many participants, with extremely proficient qualifications.  I am sure we will be able to generate some great and sustainable solutions to our challenges!

By Susanna Horn
Life Cycle Model Development Manager, Outotec
Sustainability Master Class Mentor