Rio Tinto's Approach: Australia's Rio Tinto, One of World's Largest Resource Companies, Has the Philosophy 'That There Is No Conflict between Sustainable Development and Business'. the Company Says Turning That Philosophy into Action Has Been Made Possible Largely by the Pragmatic Culture of the Minerals Industry
Davidson, Steve, Ecos
The Rio Tinto Foundation
In 2002, in partnership with the federal government, Rio Tinto set up the Rio Tinto Foundation for a Sustainable Minerals Industry. A $35 million interest-free loan was provided as assistance by the Government with the company contributing an equal amount.
The Foundation supports research and technical development that will help the minerals and metals industry find sustainable solutions for environmental challenges. In its Review Magazine, the company counters the argument that sustainable development calls for trade-offs in the form of slower economic growth or inferior business results. An independent analysis of a portfolio of 60 projects, conducted for the Foundation by consultants The Natural Step (Australia), concurred with the conclusion that 'innovative thinking for business benefits can also deliver significantly improved social and environmental outcomes'.
The Foundation's portfolio of activities includes, among others: more energy-efficient iron making and aluminium smelting; reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy alternatives; and investigation of regional synergies (cooperatively reducing overall waste heat, waste water, waste solids and emissions in a region).
The Rio Tinto modus operandi is generally to go back to the root causes of a problem and then to take an 'extended systems approach' to deliver a more favourable outcome. A case in point is the HIsmelt[R] project--which aimed to identify a simpler, cheaper and more flexible way of processing iron ore, from various sources, into iron and steel. The company says the results include lower carbon dioxide emissions, lower water consumption and less impact from the slag produced during iron making. Instead of piling up as waste, slag from the HIsmelt[R] process can now be used in cement making. The process also virtually eliminates dioxin and furan emissions and odours.
At the largest diamond mine in the world, its Argyle Diamond Mine in the remote East Kimberley region of Western Australia, Rio Tinto points to its 2004 Participation Agreement with Traditional Owners and its comprehensive mine closure management plan as prime examples of policy commitment to sustainable development. There is also the focus on providing for better economic participation of local people in regional development associated with Rio Tinto mines, which has increased Indigenous employment levels at the company's Australian operations 10-fold since 1995.
Earlier this year, an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) was registered, following nearly three years of negotiations between Argyle Diamonds and the Traditional Owners of the mine. …