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Leadership in sustainable mine closure

A new program aims to get everyone thinking about the end from day one

Last updated: 23 February 2024


Hundreds of mines globally are projected to close in the coming years, impacting communities, Indigenous Peoples, environments, governments and economies.

The ICMM says closure is one of the most significant challenges facing the industry.

Demand for critical minerals is growing, as the world shifts towards renewable energy production, and some mines may have shorter lifespans.

We are committed to closing mines safely and responsibly, which includes working with local communities to develop programs and investments that benefit them after we finish mining.

Closing mines responsibly and effectively requires many fields of expertise. So to achieve our vision, we need all teams in our business to understand and plan for responsible closure right from the beginning of our operations.

To further develop our current teams and train the next generations of Closure advocates, we’re collaborating with academia, industry, government organisations and First Nations and Indigenous Peoples to create a comprehensive tertiary education program – the Leadership in Sustainable Mine Closure Program.

Interconnected units cover the social, regulatory, environmental, financial and technical elements of closure. On completion of the unit, learners will earn university-recognised certificates and receive academic credit (subject to the university’s requirements).

A unique approach

Beena, our Principal Advisor, Closure Strategy and Optimisation, says this program has global relevance and is designed to elevate positive closure outcomes.

“We have partnered with 2 renowned universities, University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver and Curtin University in Western Australia to leverage their educational best practice, as well as Ernst & Young (EY), to develop the program,” Beena says.

“This means the courses incorporate global perspectives and knowledge, best practice frameworks and learnings on closure from both hemispheres, shared by internationally recognised mine closure professionals, academia and researchers.

“Closure is incredibly multifaceted and multidisciplinary, so the myriad perspectives and experience are invaluable. Ideally, we all need to start embedding ‘closure thinking’ and operating with the end and post-mining land use in mind to inform our daily work and decision making.

“Integrating closure in the early stages of mine development, operations and core business practices can decrease risks and provide significant value for our business, the mining industry and enhance ESG outcomes.”

Last year, around 30 Rio Tinto employees and 5 EY employees from 10 different countries were invited to participate in the pilot of the first unit, “New Perspectives on Mine Closure”, delivered by UBC.


Connecting with global peers

Ashleigh, Manager, Rio Tinto Iron Ore Rehabilitation & Closure

“I really appreciated the opportunity to connect with mining, rehabilitation and closure professionals from around the world.

“Participating in the online forums and face-to-face virtual discussions, I was able to share my own learnings and hear about the experiences of others.

We have a lot to learn from each other.”

“The assessments encouraged us to explore alternative avenues for open and transparent engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders.

“I would recommend the course to anyone who has an interest in the delivery of effective, sustainable mine closure outcomes – no matter what their role.”

Paul Mitchell, EY Global Mining & Metals Leader, agrees.

“This international collaboration reaffirms the importance of considering mine closure impacts throughout the mining lifecycle. Alongside our partners, EY is committed to driving positive change and supporting solutions for these complex challenges.”

Zane Hughes, Manager in Training and Capacity Building within the Indigenous Stewardship, Biodiversity and Environment Group at Curtin University, emphasises the value that the industry-academic partnership provides.

“Developing a capable and responsive workforce, who can deliver sustainable outcomes in a multidisciplinary context, will be increasingly key to the success of closure objectives,” he says.

“This program creates a responsive curriculum and learning pathway. It brings together industry needs and expertise, community expectations and education specialists to offer robust yet practical upskilling.”


Helping to define evolving practices

Mélissa, Principal Advisor Closure Readiness, Minerals

“The industry needs to learn to embed closure into all its operations. It’s not just a job for the Closure team.

“I support Rio Tinto’s Minerals assets with closure strategy, planning and cost estimate updates.

“We also promote progressive rehabilitation and innovation to deliver optimal outcomes across environmental, social and financial objectives.

Closure is about managing a company’s legacy and leveraging opportunities.”

“Critical minerals mines will have generally shorter lifespans. As these minerals increasingly underpin our low-carbon future, it will be essential for closure practices to constantly evolve. And we can be part of that evolution.

“This course will make you appreciate just how multidisciplinary closure needs to be – not just through the study materials, but also the exchange of ideas with your cohort classmates.”

Clara Araujo, a program manager for the initiative at UBC, also notes the growing awareness of mine closure as an issue among all stakeholders.

“Expectations from society and rightsholders for responsible closure are increasing,” she says.

“Through this program, we believe we can promote an industry that is focused on successful, ethical, sustainable and responsible closure choices.”


Integrating planning across operations

Colleen, Sustainability Business Partner, Copper

“Throughout my career I have held various roles focused on the environmental and social aspects of mine closure.

“The most valuable aspect of the course for me was the first-person topical examples and contributions from a cross-section of professionals.

“As an industry, we need to increase our understanding of sustainable mine closure across diverse operational and functional roles. This will help us better integrate closure planning from day one.

“The course uses scenario-based learning very effectively, and I found the financial concepts module of the course particularly beneficial.

It was easy to apply our discussions and theory to the real world.”

“For people curious to learn more about closure, this course provides an excellent overview that improves understanding of the many roles that contribute to influencing positive closure outcomes within the mining industry.”

UBC is now running the first, fully online course, through pre-recorded and interactive sessions. They have a number of intakes planned for 2024, and the team are also developing further courses that both UBC and Curtin will offer.

Interconnected units cover the social, regulatory, environmental, financial and technical elements of closure. On completion of the unit, learners will earn university-recognised certificates and receive academic credit (subject to the university’s requirements).

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