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.
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.
Exploring innovative reclamation
Getting our reclamation right is really important for the community, and for our business,”
- Trevor, Environment team, Kennecott
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
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.
“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.
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."