Respect for the environment is central to our approach. Wherever possible we prevent - or otherwise minimise, mitigate and remediate - harmful effects that our operations may have.
We have developed a range of practical environmental programmes, from using our technological expertise to reduce emissions, to recycling water and rehabilitating land into wildlife habitats.
We work in partnership with our stakeholders, such as local communities and conservation groups. This collaborative approach helps us increase our understanding of the risks we face – both challenges and opportunities – and how best to manage them.
Our operations release gases and particulates into the atmosphere that may have an effect on people and the environment. These emissions are the result of burning fossil fuels, moving ores and wastes, and smelting metals.
To avoid or minimise related health or environmental impacts, we constantly review our emissions, look for ways to improve our performance and apply controls. Our work is guided by our strict air quality control standard. We also monitor particulate gas and vapour exposure in the workplace, in line with our occupational health standards.
The rate of biodiversity loss remains a serious global concern as the human population grows and competes with habitats containing the world’s remaining biodiversity. Our activities have the potential to adversely impact biodiversity and this generates significant interest with key stakeholders, including government, local communities and non-government organisations (NGOs).
Rio Tinto has long recognised the importance of sound biodiversity management and has had a biodiversity strategy since 2004. The strategy requires that all sites understand their biodiversity risk and impacts. Those sites deemed to pose high or very high risk to biodiversity must develop an action plan to help understand and minimise impacts, and, where appropriate, implement actions to achieve a net positive impact (NPI).
It’s important that any strategy maintains its relevance, and in 2014 we undertook a review of our biodiversity strategy, taking into account our many years of implementation experience and the views of our stakeholders.
Energy and climate change
We recognise the need to understand and adapt to the physical impacts of climate change, which will affect our operations, particularly through the availability of water and the occurrence of extreme weather events. We believe that global energy and climate challenges are best met by companies, governments and society working together. Our strategy is to maximise shareholder returns by making our assets more resilient against uncertain carbon and energy market risks.
Meeting the growth in global energy demand will require increased energy efficiency, technological innovation and a mix of energy sources: fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable energy sources.
Together with our energy customers, we have to balance the competing objectives of maximising energy security while minimising supply costs and the environmental impact. Each of our sites where energy is used has unique opportunities and constraints.
Competition for land-based resources will continue to grow as the global population is forecast to exceed nine billion by 2050. An increasing population also presents competing demands between mining and other land uses, particularly food and fibre production.
Our operations seek to avoid then minimise impacts to land, biodiversity and ecosystem services. We aim to rehabilitate mining areas to the extent practicable, consistent with planned final land use, and return all other disturbed lands to beneficial post-operational use. We require that rehabilitation begins as early as possible in the lifecycle of an operation.
During our mining and processing operations, we generate both mineral and non-mineral waste. We put controls in place to limit the negative environmental impact of our waste, and reduce our operating costs and risks.
These controls require us to characterise our waste, forecast how waste will behave over the long term, carry out monitoring, and – where waste is managed on site – close our waste facilities responsibly. We routinely audit the procedures and practices of third-party waste management providers to verify our wastes are properly managed.
One of our main focuses is chemically reactive waste, which requires careful planning and management to avoid creating long-term liabilities and minimise existing liabilities.
Water is a vital resource for communities and ecosystems and is essential to our operations.
Our operations rely on the ability to obtain water of suitable quality and quantity, and are committed to using water responsibly. Our approach to water management is based on the identification, assessment and control of water-related risks.
Each operation has its own water challenges. Some are located in water-scarce environments. Others need to manage surplus water from storms or groundwater, or the quality of water we use and discharge to the environment. We work with neighbouring communities to manage our impacts, and look for opportunities to provide clean drinking water in countries where water is unsuitable or insufficient to meet community needs.
Find out more about our approach to the environment in our 2014 Sustainable development report