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A new model for mining

How an environmentalist became the CEO of a mining company

Last updated: 18 May 2023


Stephen D'Esposito is the Founder and CEO of Regeneration, a social enterprise that plans to transform legacy sites into ecological assets while producing critical minerals. Stephen is also the President of RESOLVE.

Steve, Founder and CEO of Regeneration
Stephen, Founder and CEO of Regeneration

"What has always fascinated me is how you make change in the world.

I first got into environmental work after graduating from college in the 80s. Then I started working for Greenpeace, which was doing an essential job of bringing issues to the forefront and showing what needed to change.

If you're going to tackle whaling, you put yourself between the harpoon and the whale, and that creates the leverage you need to change practices. But when it comes to something like climate change, it’s much more complicated. It became clear to me that I wanted to keep working on the same issues but, to do that, I had to work with industry to get something constructive done with the companies that were seen as the problem.

And so that's when I started working more closely with certain companies that I thought had an interest in doing things a little differently. I started working a lot on mining issues at that stage – and that’s what led me to start Regeneration.

I'm the unlikely CEO of a mining company, right? Because I come from the environmental community. But in my way of thinking, that combination – where you can bring together mining companies with leadership from civil society and NGOs – is exactly what's needed right now.

Regeneration is a different kind of mining company – we focus first on restoration outcomes. When we identify a restoration opportunity, we then work together with the community to build a closure vision. Then we use re-mining to achieve better community, conservation, and climate outcomes.

Waste from past mining contains metals like cobalt, lithium, copper, platinum and tellurium. That waste can help fuel the energy transition and meet the responsible sourcing needs of green technology and sustainable brands. We go in and remine waste rock and water, take the metals out which are part of the pollution problem, and then turn it into a positive green product to help fuel the energy transition. So mine waste becomes not just a risk, but also an amazing opportunity.

We blend NGO and commercial thinking, and we draw on experts from both sectors. And using this model, we can disrupt the status quo.”

About Regeneration

In 2021 Rio Tinto joined forces with RESOLVE, a non-profit organisation, to launch Regeneration, a start-up that will use the re-mining and processing of waste from legacy mine sites to support rehabilitation activities and restore natural environments.

Regeneration will extract valuable minerals and metals from mine tailings, waste rock and water. Earnings from the sale of these responsibly sourced materials will be reinvested to help fund habitat restoration and closure activities, including at legacy and previously abandoned mine sites. Regeneration will also seek to create and trade biodiversity and carbon credits by rehabilitating land and generating environmental offsets.

We’re investing $2 million in Regeneration and will work with them to identify potential opportunities for the first Regeneration project.

Re-thinking – and re-mining – waste

Stephen D'Esposito says there are 3 reasons the time is right to re-think mining waste and mine sites.

  1. Demand linked to the energy transition: The World Bank projects that we will need over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals to deploy the wind, solar, and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, required to achieve a climate target of 2°C.
  2. Technology innovation: Innovation in mine waste processing is exploding – both tested and new technologies can be used to re-mine waste and address pollution.
  3. The need to find more land for nature-based solutions to meet our biodiversity and climate goals: We can create significant benefits from restoring degraded sites and we can create quantifiable, green outcomes in the form of biodiversity and carbon credits.
Wind turbine
Waste from past mining contains metals like cobalt, lithium, copper, platinum and tellurium that are needed to build renewable technologies like wind and solar power, and batteries for electric vehicles.

“Nose to tail” mining

Over the past few years, our scientists and engineers have been hard at work finding new uses for every material we dig out of the ground and using the by-products of our metal processing operations too. In Canada we’re producing scandium from titanium waste and in the US we’re creating tellurium as a by-product of copper production.

By extracting valuable minerals from waste – or creating new products from the waste itself – we can reduce the amount sent to landfill, make useful products, create new revenue streams and help our customers meet their sustainability goals.

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