Environmental stewardship at heart of mining’s evolution

By Donna Schmidt

Not long ago in mining, the idea of social and environmental commitment – being a “good neighbor” to the mining communities surrounding an operation – was more of an idea in theory than in application. While some mines have long dedicated themselves to great stewardship, more talked the talk than walked the walk.

Photo courtesy ResponsibleSteel

Fast forward a handful of years, and things look vastly different. Sustainability reports are now much more commonplace from operating companies, as are stories of community assistance and the release of new and updated goals for environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts in a wave of transparency that extends not just to these affected communities, but to industry stakeholders as a whole.

Fact: We as an industry are not the best at telling our story. The “good news” in mining, for the general public, is hard for them to find and often hard to fully comprehend – we wear our complexity and technical nature well, with just enough big machines and blasts to scare folks off – so we face the headwinds of negative press and attitudes like no one else.

We have, however, learned a lesson in it all: Having an understanding of what goes on beyond that mine’s entry gate is a goal for us all, and that transparency can be a great thing. Mining is and has been putting enormous efforts into more clean, responsible and effective production and we have finally realized that highlighting this positive news pays off.

There is now little shortage of news abound that offers the insight into what this industry is doing that is encouraging not only for the mining community but for the planet’s environmental future. For example, Arch Resources said in May that it had joined ResponsibleSteel, a not-for-profit standard and certification initiative that its CEO Paul Lang called “a valuable forum for collaborating with our steelmaking partners as they endeavor to create an ore ESG-compliant value chain.”

It is the first metallurgical coal producer in the country to join to date. It likely will not be the last.

Why? Because despite the story we have allowed others to tell for us, we know the industry does want a better future for those both inside and outside of it, be it a goal of zero carbon intensity (as in this case), water conservation, reclamation or any number of other social and environmental targets.

Do these companies, particularly operators, need to join these organizations that require a dedication to a better tomorrow? No. The fact that they are is very telling for us as a community. We’re beginning to articulate our own story in a more constructive way and put proof behind the dedication to these issues that most of mining has always had – just not outwardly shown.

Arch’s dedication to responsible steel will very likely have a rapid ripple effect. As Anne-Claire Howard, CEO of ResponsibleSteel, noted, facilitating a responsible steel supply chain comes down to collaborations like these.

“The role of metallurgical coal in the steelmaking process is considerable today, with 70% of steel being produced using it as an input material. Even as we strive to support an accelerated transition to net-zero steelmaking, we want to ensure that all inputs in the steelmaking process are being produced by responsible mining companies who take their ESG impacts seriously.”

Sounds like an invitation, doesn’t it? Maybe more of a challenge, but challenge is opportunity.

The act of commitment in these ways, and putting ideas into action such as with Arch’s recent move, marks another step on mining’s journey of pride not only in the work that’s being done, but how it’s being done, and carrying that forward long term. And that is something to celebrate.