From the start of our operations to their closure, we aim to thoughtfully steward the land we mine and on which we operate.
Land as Culture
When we begin exploration, long before our operations start, we work with local communities, including Indigenous peoples, to understand the physical, spiritual and cultural connection they have with the land. We conduct cultural heritage and environmental studies to understand the area and look for ways to avoid or reduce any impacts. We see this long-term approach – planning and operating with the future in mind – as integral to running a safe, responsible and profitable business.
We strive to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, as applicable in local jurisdictions, and also engage other affected communities. We are proud to have been one of the first mining companies in Australia to welcome native title to land and commit to forming agreements with Indigenous landowners. Today, we have more than 40 land access agreements with Indigenous groups around the world.
Protecting Land During and After Operations
Where our operations have the potential to adversely affect land, we have rehabilitation programmes in place that we review every year, as well as dedicated teams that look after the land throughout the life of the operation. Our scientists, engineers and environmental and cultural experts work with Indigenous peoples and other members of our local communities to make sure rehabilitation is done the right way, and to share knowledge and learn from the people who know the land best. At our Weipa bauxite operations, in Australia, for example, our Land Management & Rehabilitation team works with Traditional Owners to source native seeds for the site’s rehabilitation programme. This ensures the right plants are grown in the right areas for medicinal, food and ceremonial use.
We also work with scientists and environmental groups to help us improve our rehabilitation work. For example, at our Richards Bay Minerals operation, in South Africa, we have been pioneering sand dune rehabilitation for the past 40 years, testing and learning as we go. To date, using native plants and trees, we have successfully rehabilitated more than 1,000 hectares (10 km2). More than 35 studies have been done by scientists around the world to learn from the work the team is doing, and in turn, help us improve our techniques. And at QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), restoring wetlands is part of our commitment. The newly created wetlands at QMM, which are home to birds, fish and around 20 different plants, and are important to the lives of Antanosy people. Through the implementation of these restoration programmes, we are ensuring we support the right balance between plant and animal life, to allow the land to be resilient well into the future.
We also try to minimise our impact through careful waste management, including mineral waste such as waste rock, slag and tailings, and non-mineral waste such as used oil and office waste. For example, at our Oyu Tolgoi operations in Mongolia, 40-50% of waste materials are diverted from the waste management centre through re-use and recycling programmes. Not only is this reducing the volume of materials going to the landfill (prolonging the operational life of the waste management center landfill cells) but it is also supporting Mongolian communities and industries. Waste oil is treated for re-use as lubricants, waste plastic is recycled into plastic pellets for re-use in the manufacturing of other products, and plastic pellets are converted into packaging and medical sharps containers. The end product of kitchen waste cooking oil is purified by a local company and used to make soap.
It is not always possible to reuse or recycle waste, so we build facilities to manage it in ways that minimise adverse environmental and community impact, disposal costs and future liabilities. In 2018, we found off-site opportunities for reuse or recycling of 353,877 tonnes of our non-mineral waste and 740,249 tonnes of mineral waste. We have rigorous controls and monitoring programmes in place to prevent and mitigate the potential harmful impact of acid and metalliferous drainage (AMD) potentially generated by approximately 31% of our mineral waste though reactions with air or water.
In 2018, our Iron Ore Mineral Waste Management Team won an International Network for Acid Prevention (INAP) Best Practice award, for “Pilbara operations exemplify global best practice and deserve international recognition”.
Monitoring our Impact
As part of our commitment to stewarding the land we operate on, we continually monitor our impacts and redefine our approach as necessary. If we need to make changes to the design of our operations, we re-evaluate our land management and rehabilitation plans and adjust them accordingly.
For example, in Gove, Yellow Crazy Ants are considered to be one of the world’s worst invasive ant pests. The ants pose a major threat to Australia's biodiversity, out-competing and displacing native insects, which are crucial for ecosystem health. Since 2003, we have been working with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and Yolngu Business Enterprise on eradicating the Yellow Crazy Ant through detection and baiting activities.
Gove Operations Rehabilitation Specialist Faye Lawton, who has been part of the eradication project since the start, says that having detection dog Jet on the team is a huge benefit. Jet’s ability to detect the species is amazing and has meant that the team have been able to assess the monitoring results and tailor the programme to ensure the species is on the way to eradication.
Jet has been trained as a wildlife conservation detection dog and is fantastic at finding where a particular species – in this case Yellow Crazy Ants – might be hiding. Trials show that detection dogs are able to locate targeted species up to 300% more effectively than humans so we’re extremely lucky to have him here helping our environmental team map any Yellow Crazy Ant locations”
Gove Operations Rehabilitation Specialist Faye Lawton
Frances and her team work closely with local Indigenous people to restore parts of the land back to nature, once mining stops: "We're working with people who live here, who work here, and who know this land – because it's their country.”
"Aboriginal people have a strong spiritual connection to the land, so it's important they have a hand in the regeneration – that they can be part of it," Frances says.
One of the ways we're doing this at Weipa is by working with Traditional Owners to understand how they use the region's plants – for medicine, food and ceremonies. Then, as part of rehabilitation, the team makes sure those plants are grown in the right areas: "We make sure trees like the nonda plum – an edible native fruit – are planted in areas where local Aboriginal people gather and share stories.
The team also works with local Aboriginal people to collect native seed to help regenerate mined areas. It's a source of income for collectors, and gives families an opportunity to work together on country and pass on knowledge to the next generation.
It also gives Frances's team a source of local seeds to grow native plants: over the years they’ve grown tens of thousands of native plants from the seeds collected, helping improve our rehabilitation work.
Science, nature and ancient knowledge all working together.
We also share our learnings with our operations globally, and with our industry partners. For example, we have joined the Proteus Partnership, a unique collaboration between the United Nations Environment Program – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and extractive industries. The key focus of the partnership is to improve internationally accepted information and data on protected areas and biodiversity through private sector contributions, so that the data can reliably inform decision making for biodiversity conservation, and to support Proteus companies in making sure that they mitigate their impacts effectively.
We are also members of the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM). The ICMM Principles and their associated Performance Expectations provide member companies like ours with a framework for performance, particularly:
- pursue continual improvement in environmental performance issues, such as water stewardship, energy use and climate change (Principle 6)
- contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and integrated approaches to land use planning (Principle 7)
- facilitate and support the knowledge-base and systems for responsible design, use, re-use, recycling and disposal of products containing metals and minerals (Principle 8)
We are also founders and active members of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), and are the only aluminium producer to have our product ASI-certified as responsible throughout its life cycle. ASI certification was made possible with collaboration across the aluminum value chain, including Nestlé Nespresso, Flora & Fauna International (FFI), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).