When we think of natural resources, most people think of coal, oil and gas, iron ore, copper and gold. In public perception, their importance dominates in areas such as energy production, steel production and infrastructure – and traditionally the raw materials sector is primarily associated with the extraction of fossil fuels. Not least because of this, the entire industry is the focus of public discussion – even apart from current events, which primarily shed light on the network of international dependencies.
There is much less awareness of how much the natural resources extracted through mining now permeate all aspects of our modern lives. Many may be surprised at how many things that are taken for granted would not be possible without mining. This starts with building materials such as gravel and lime or fertilizers for food production and extends to the minerals that are indispensable for the mega-topics of our time such as digitization and the energy transition. It is precisely these that are constantly gaining in importance and, from today’s perspective, are difficult or impossible to replace; Even recycling cycles on an industrial scale are still in their infancy.
The entire raw materials industry is under more pressure than almost any other industry: energy transition, availability, global supply chains, price developments and our own claim to constantly reduce environmental pollution are the focus.
No future without natural resources
Contrary to what some populist interpretations would suggest, mining is clearly an industry of the future. As such, it cannot avoid one central topic: sustainability. Industry ascribes a dominant role to it in the 21st century. For mining and raw material procurement, this means a profound change. That is why sustainability is also the focus of this year’s international MiningForum.
A significant challenge for one of the oldest industries in the world, because one thing is clear: Without the will to do business more sustainably, technological innovations and cultural change, mining will have no future. Europe, among others, is already playing a pioneering role here. Good progress is already being made in early citizen participation, fair burden sharing and the use of the latest technologies to protect people and nature.
But our claim goes even further. The industry must work on the one hand that the existing possibilities become the standard everywhere and on the other hand that they are constantly being further developed. The raw materials industry has the potential to become a cross-sector pioneer, especially in environmental protection.
Without the procurement of natural resources, the future of mankind is uncertain. At the same time, we must minimize the impact on people and nature. The task now is to implement the change towards sustainability.
This includes answering central questions such as: Which natural resources can or must be extracted in the future? How can this be done according to ESG criteria (Environmental, Social, Government)? And since the pandemic and the recent geopolitical tensions, how can international supply chains be made more resilient and one-sided dependencies avoided?
In order to answer these, it is important to understand that almost everything today is interconnected and interconnected. The mining industry must develop such an understanding and implement it on a broad basis. Many players still have room for improvement here – and the rule is: Whoever moves first is taking a risk in the short term, but has clear advantages in the long term. Because only those who operate sustainably will be successful in the long term.
Assume social responsibility
Sustainability also relates to corporate social responsibility. For the raw materials industry, this means creating the best possible working conditions. It also means broadening the societal perspective on projects and ensuring that everyone involved is involved – not just industry representatives and politicians, but also citizens, local authorities and environmental groups.
This alone does not solve any specific problems, but it can make a decisive contribution. In the future, for example, more added value is to take place where the raw materials are extracted in order to involve the local population more – which increases the acceptance of the companies and makes it clear that they take their social responsibility seriously. In addition, it is important to provide detailed information and to have a say in local communities. Ideally, projects can be improved through participatory measures for all parties.
Apart from that, large corporations as well as smaller companies have now understood that a pure focus on short-term profit maximization does not bring them any real advantage in the long term and can even drive them out of the market – the opposite of sustainability. This not only affects the environment and the people affected, but also their image and credibility. Since the mining industry in particular is already confronted with reputation problems among many citizens, it is not only a question of action, but also of transparency on the part of the industry representatives who are in the public eye.
Understand sustainability holistically
Sustainability must be viewed holistically – and that applies to strategies and communication as well as processes and technologies. In traditional mining, for example, this means transparency in the extraction of raw materials and the supply chains, as well as proof that all legal requirements in the countries of origin and processing have been implemented and complied with at the highest level. The social conditions in the extraction of natural resources should not only meet the requirements, but at best go beyond them.
In addition, the supply chains themselves must also evolve and more and more green technologies must be used in the exploration, extraction and processing of natural resources. “Holistic” is essential because it is necessary to think through and plan every project – whether greenfield or brownfield – from the beginning to the final demolition and demolition in all aspects. This is exactly where Germany has a head start: the country’s post-mining industry is highly developed. Intensive research is being carried out into how the geothermal energy in the groundwater can be used, for example after a mine has been shut down.
Because where the know-how is located, there are also the greatest opportunities to achieve really relevant results. Germany’s pioneering role in this area is both an opportunity and an obligation. Through the continuous further development of our fields of activity and business, we are able to combine sustainability and value creation.
Whether sustainability in reporting with appropriate standardization or the proactive involvement of all those involved or affected, many things that seemed hardly imaginable ten or twenty years ago are already reality today. And it shows one thing above all: the industry has understood and accepted its responsibility. Understanding complex relationships is part of the DNA of the industry – and can therefore also provide valuable orientation for other industries.
Switch – with smart technologies
It is about nothing less than the transition to more environmentally responsible use of resources from exploration, extraction and processing through the supply chain to the end product. Raw materials with a poor environmental balance will hardly be marketable in the future, especially since new, highly agile players are entering the field and putting some top dogs under pressure.
Technologies play an important role. Fully automated mining – already a reality in many places – and the massive use of digital solutions increase security and efficiency. The best available technologies are also crucial when using minimally invasive mining methods.
Digital solutions come into play at all levels of value creation – such as analyzes as part of development and seismic ground tests in the respective regions. Whether exploration, mining, monitoring or predictive maintenance, modern technology creates opportunities. However, the smart handling of data is becoming increasingly important in order to avoid data overkill and instead to generate noticeable, sustainable added value from the analyses.