Mining today is a hi-tech industry, employing skilled people, producing essential materials, safely and responsibly.

A set of principles which Straterra members uphold is listed in the Straterra Charter.

Find out more about the economic and social benefits, and environmental management of mining

Sustainability is a contraction of “sustainable development”, a term coined in the 1987 report “Our Common Future”, produced by the Brundtland Commission. 

This UN Commission - named after Norway’s then Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland - offered this definition: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The concept has humanity at its centre, rather than the environment per se, and was a major advance in the nascent environment debate. A key driver was the view that poverty alleviation would only occur as long as economic growth could continue. At issue was, and is, how to manage that growth.

Sustainable development was later adopted as Agenda 21, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years after the first international environment conference in Stockholm, and has been the subject of much debate before and since. For example, it is not obvious how to identify the needs of future generations. Some have argued that sustainability is impossible to achieve – the impacts of humanity on Earth are simply too great. That view was borne out by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005, which showed ongoing decline in the Earth’s life-supporting ecosystems.

STRATERRA'S VIEW ON SUSTAINABILITY

Straterra takes a pragmatic view, consistent with work done by the OECD and others on “green growth”. Where economic development, including mining, adversely affects the environment, reasonable and practical steps must be taken to avoid, reduce, remedy, mitigate, offset, and/or compensate for those effects. That entails actions to promote the resilience of the environment at affected sites, with time doing the rest. The minerals sector does not wish to cause a decline in New Zealand’s natural capital, or flow in ecosystem services derived from that natural capital.

MINING AND SUSTAINABILITY

On the face of it, minerals are a non-renewable resource. Their supply is fixed, and, therefore, their extraction will lead to resource depletion. On that basis, mining is unsustainable. Straterra argues that this view is an oversimplification. We suggest a more subtle consideration of the issue.

Mining companies do not extract minerals as such - we mine economic ore deposits. What is economic or not at any time will depend on a multitude of factors: commodity prices, advances in minerals discovery, extraction and processing technologies, and the cost or value of alternative or substitute resources and technologies, e.g., recycling, other energy resources, different metals, greater efficiencies in energy and resource use.

Seen this way, mineral resources can never run out. Once the price of any diminishing resource increases to the point where a substitute or alternative technology becomes competitive, demand will shift to the latter.

Humankind will be mining for a long time to come, which is just as well because the “green economy” will require more mining, not less.