Wildlife in the forest near QMM

From the Ground Up

Minimising our impact on the environment


We know that our work, by its very nature, impacts the environment – and that we have a responsibility to minimise those impacts as best we can. We work with the natural environment to mitigate our impacts, recognising the role of healthy ecosystems in providing habitats for plants and animals, and supporting livelihoods too.

We have specialist teams at every operation – including ecologists, biologists, hydrologists, botanists and other environmental scientists. Their job is to help us protect the environment, from when we’re planning a project to preparing the site for the next chapter of its life once mining stops. Here is some of their work around the world.

We support the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures

We are proud to have contributed to the Informal Working Group of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) to develop a framework that will help organisations like ours build a complete picture of environmental risks and opportunities. The TNFD framework will help businesses report and act on evolving nature-related risks, to support a shift in global financial flows away from nature-negative outcomes and toward nature-positive outcomes.

Since 2018, we have also referenced the recommendations from the Taskforce for Climate-related Disclosures (TCFD) in our annual reporting.

As a global mining company we are acutely aware of the interconnected risks posed to by nature loss and climate change. We strive to minimise and mitigate our impacts on the environment, especially in the communities in which we live and work, and continually look for ways to improve our nature-related disclosures and target-setting. So we welcome the TNFD as a consistent framework for organisations to identify nature-related risks, enhance transparency and work more efficiently towards addressing nature loss and protecting the planet.”

Ann Masse, our global Head of Health, Safety, Environment and Security

Before we start mining

Understanding the natural ecosystem

Jadar lithium-boron project, Lozjnica, Serbia

Jadar is a lithium-boron project currently in feasibility phase, located in the north-west region of Serbia.

Jadar Project, Serbia

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To help us build a detailed picture of the environment, we conducted a range of biodiversity baseline studies and broader environmental studies – including more than 23,000 surveys of soil, water, air and noise. This research helps identify possible impacts and implement ways to manage them before we begin mining. We are also setting up a local Committee for Environmental Protection, so the community can get involved, raise concerns and ask questions.

While we're operating

Helping turtle hatchlings get the best start

Weipa bauxiteoperations, Queensland, Australia

At our bauxite mining operations at Weipa, in far north Queensland, we’re working with Wik-Waya Traditional Owners to help protect four of the six Australian species of turtle hatchlings.

Green sea turtle hatchling, Weipa

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Turtles have been around since the dinosaurs, but today flatback, green, olive ridley and hawksbill sea turtles are endangered species. And with only one in a thousand sea turtle hatchlings expected to survive to adulthood, it’s vital we do what we can to make hatching as successful as possible.

Working with the local Amrun Land and Sea Management team, we monitor almost 60km of beach near our operations, keeping a close eye on turtle nests and collecting important data such as GPS locations and track widths, and using infrared cameras to understand predator behaviour. We also introduced a programme to manage feral pigs – an introduced species – which are responsible for around 90% of attacks on turtle eggs and hatchlings.

Since the turtle programme began in 2016, we have seen an increase from just one hatched turtle nest in 2016 to 100 hatched nests in 2020.

BC Works, Canada

No kidding around with mountain goats

Kemano hydroelectric plant, BritishColumbia, Canada

Mountain goats – a protected species – are a common sight on the ice-covered cliffs around Kitimat, Canada, where we are building a second hydro tunnel to connect the Kemano hydroelectric plant with the Nechako reservoir.

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To maintain the safety of the construction teams, specialised avalanche technicians use helicopters to reach areas at high risk of avalanche and use explosives to generate controlled snow slides in areas that may affect the project. Mountain goats are extremely sensitive to disturbances, and with tunnel construction requiring around 80 avalanche control missions during the winter season, the environment team had to carefully consider ways to protect the goats.

A really important part was understanding the mountain goat's behaviour, and how we could help make sure they didn’t become displaced, driven into avalanche areas, stressed or forced to consume more energy than normal especially during critical winter and kid-rearing months. So we introduced a range of measures including monitoring mountain goat occupancy and nanny-kid ratios through a wildlife sightings programme and frequent counts, and altering or delaying avalanche control flights should goats be located within the flight path. With the 2020-2021 winter nearing its end, we’re pleased to see the programme has been working well.

Minding the millipedes

QITMadagascar Minerals (QMM), Anosy, Madagascar

At our QMM operation in Madagascar, we have established three protected conservation areas – around 2,095 hectares of forest – where we avoid mining.

Millipede, QMM operations, Madagascar

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These areas, which are home to unique plant and animal species like lemurs, are carefully managed in partnership with local civil society organisations and community groups, helping further mitigate biodiversity impacts and ensuring availability of natural resources for communities. One such species is the millipede – a critically important species for the health of the local forest ecosystem. Madagascar’s littoral forests grow on low-nutrient sands flushed by heavy rains, and so millipedes play a key role in decomposing leaves and other plant matter, to produce natural fertiliser for plant growth. By establishing conservation zones like these, we can help protect the millipedes as well as the healthy ecosystem they support.

Restoring land for future uses

Waste rock at Kennecott, US

Exploring innovative reclamation

Kennecott copper mine, Utah, United States

Getting our reclamation right is really important for the community, and for our business,”
- Trevor, Environment team, Kennecott

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High up in the Oquirrh Mountains west of Salt Lake City, Utah, US, our environment team is steadily working to revegetate waste rock piles – some up to 1,200 feet high – leftover from around 100 years of mining.

Getting it right is really important: by reclaiming these waste rock dumps, the valley communities facing west towards the rocks will eventually see the trees and other native vegetation that would have been there 120 years ago. To help us improve our techniques, we formed a three-year partnership with Brigham Young University’s (BYU) Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences in 2020, to research innovative ways of reclaiming the waste rock dumps. The research projects include developing new technology to coat seeds to improve coverage and survival, finding ways to reduce invasive weeds growing on the waste rock and remotely accessing hard-to-reach parts where revegetation is taking place naturally, so we can learn from it.

Restoring 300 football fields of wetlands

QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), Anosy, Madagascar

At our QMM operation, we’re restoring wetlands – the size of 300 football fields – as part of our commitment to the Government of Madagascar and to make sure we leave the smallest impact on the environment.

Wetlands, QMM operations, Madagascar

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“I really wanted to do something to contribute to the sustainable development of this region – and to our country. For me it’s about doing something that makes sense economically and for the environment – and the wetlands project is one way we help do that.”

Faly, an ecologist in QMM’s Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management team.

Because it’s the first big wetland restoration project in a post mining area in the country, we’ve had to come up with new ways of doing things – such as creating floating bamboo rafts to help seedlings take hold in deep water.

Restoring the wetland has been one of QMM’s priorities since mining began. The wetlands create a home for birds, fish and other animals – like crocodiles – as well as around 20 different plants. But one of its most important uses is supplying the local Antanosy people with plants for their everyday lives: like Mahampy, a type of reed used to weave baskets, hats and funeral shrouds, and the Ravinala tree, which is used to build traditional houses. After the first year of restoration work, more than 200 people a week visited the site for the first Mahampy harvest.

Teri, Head of Environment
Theresia, Head of Environment
Meet Theresia: Our Head of Environment

When people ask how I ended up in mining with a conservation background – the answer is simple. From inside a global business with a footprint like Rio Tinto, I believe I have the opportunity to make a difference.

Theresia, Head of Environment

"The size of our business means we’re influential too – from a policy perspective, but also, supporting change within the industry. At every operation, retaining our license to operate means demonstrating that we are responsible stewards of the environment, and we take a collaborative approach to getting it right. There’s also the growing expectation from investors and other stakeholders to be part of the solution. And we take that very seriously. I know I’m doing what I can to make a difference to protect the environment – and the best part of my job is that I know there are so many other people I work with who feel exactly the same way."