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Addressing the urgency of sustainable mining

Published by , Editor
Global Mining Review,

The next 10 years are crucial in the fight against climate change, resource scarcity, and environmental damage. The pressure is on mining, minerals, and metals organisations to adopt sustainable practices, while also supplying the critical resources needed to support a more sustainable and greener world.

Addressing the urgency of sustainable mining

The resources industry’s historic impact on the environment is clear, with 4 – 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions coming from mining alone.1 But without a sustainable resources industry, global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions will be difficult. Therefore, meeting sustainability commitments is vital not only for the success of energy-intensive essential businesses, but also for the sustainability of the entire planet itself.

Ultimately, essential industries can support global sustainability goals by:

  • Identifying and eliminating energy and water loss.
  • Optimising operations across the value chain.
  • Improving operational efficiency and reducing resource waste.
  • Minimising emissions by optimising renewable power and leveraging microgrids.
  • Fostering a circular economy and green products with new carbon zero processes.

The Internet of Things: enabling sustainable practices

As digital technology becomes more capable and affordable, and operations move to electrification with sustainable alternative energy sources, highly-sustainable mining, minerals, and metals operations can become the norm.

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), it is now possible to connect and integrate digital control and electrification across the whole operational lifecycle. Today’s automation and energy management technologies are helping the sector realise substantial gains by delivering energy and cost efficiencies throughout the entire value chain.

IoT-enabled devices coupled with cloud and edge-based capabilities provide greater visibility and efficiency across all operations. This leads to better insights and decision-making, and even automated responses. By optimising process, automation, control and energy management systems, combined with analytics and artificial intelligence, it is possible to manage sustainability outcomes in the context of production targets.

For example, LafargeHolcim has developed a 4-year plan titled ‘Plants of Tomorrow’, with a goal to improve operational efficiency of the company’'s plants by 15 - 20%. Capturing operational data and leveraging advanced data analytics will greatly reduce carbon emissions and water waste in line with the company’s strategic sustainability objectives.

Implementing a step-by-step strategy

By adopting a step-by-step sustainability strategy, mining operations can more easily realise sustainability goals and maintain their social license to operate. Key success factors include:

  • Leadership support.
  • Clear and holistic reporting of key accountability metrics.
  • Enhanced operational visibility with actionable insights across the full operation.
  • An empowered workforce.
  • Integrated automation and energy management technology to deliver sustainable levels of efficiency.

Having the right technologies and tools in place will help organisations make informed decisions, which will ultimately empower people across the mining, minerals, and metals value chains to make strategic choices with sustainability in mind. Bringing together changes relating to strategy, operational-level execution and meaningful key performance indicators, as well as efficient reporting and technology capabilities encompassing IoT, cloud, and edge computing will help deliver the real sustainability outcomes that make a difference.

The result will be a drastic reduction in GHG emissions, increased efficiency in energy, water and other recourse use, and enhanced environmental protection. This will not only benefit the planet in the long terms but will also generate responsible profitably for mining, minerals, and metals businesses.

  1. DELEVINGNE, L., GLAZENER, W., GRÉGOIR, L., and HENDERSON, K., ‘Climate risk and decarbonization: What every mining CEO needs to know’, (28 January 2020),

By Greg Johnson, Mining Global Solution Architect at Schneider Electric.

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