Sticks and Stones and Mining’s Sustainability Guidelines

Posted on July 30, 2007


It must be hard to represent the least sustainable of industries. The (US) National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) represents the extractive industries:

NSSGA is the largest mining association by product volume in the world and represents the crushed stone, sand and gravel-or aggregate-industries. Our member companies produce more than 92 percent of the crushed stone and 72 percent of the sand and gravel consumed annually in the United States. More than three billion tons of aggregates (or 2.95 billion metric tons) were produced in 2006 at a value of approximately $21 billion.

It might be greenwash, but on the basis that some of the paint must surely stick, well done the executive of NSSGA for adopting a set of Guiding Principles for Sustainability:

The members of the NSSGA recognize that the Earth’s resources, upon which all life depends, are finite, and that wise environmental stewardship is necessary today to preserve the potential for a quality life for future generations.

Some of the sentences look a little strange to me, as if written by a committee and then someone adding a bit to keep the members happy:

The members of NSSGA also identify the concept of sustainability as a business approach that integrates environmental, social and economic aspects to ensure the long-term supply of aggregate materials to society.

Quite a lot of it is self justifying:

NSSGA members sustain the communities in which we operate by providing raw materials as natural building blocks for quality of life.

Which is surely put in to challenge the Natural Step first system condition:

The Realities…today we are living in a fossil fuel-based society and are largely dependent upon mining operations or energy, transportation, and a multitude of natural resources. At the same time, mining
operations threaten national parks, require massive amounts of energy and chemicals that leak
into groundwater, produce radioactive waste and noxious emissions, and can even displace communities.

Some of the statement seems a pointed jab at environmental legislation:

We work with appropriate government bodies to establish effective, responsible and balanced laws and other requirements based on sound science.

and while we are conscious of the environment

We are conscious of the need to provide economic, social and environmental value for future generations, and the communities in which we operate.

the bottom line is:

We recognize that profitability is essential to a sustainable industry and its continued ability to contribute to communities.

The NSSGA sustainability statement is put into practice through a set of Environmental Management Systems. It is probably these systems that will make a real difference to practice rather than the somewhat shaky guiding principles. The editor of the mining trade journal Pit and Quarry probably hits the nail on the head with:

The long-term viability of the aggregates industry is dependent on obtaining and maintaining a social license to operate.

This social license has to be earned, and is something we should not take for granted in any industry.