Hydropower, aerial shot

Our sustainability approach

Producing essential materials responsibly

Our strategy, objectives and values guide our approach to sustainability.

Decarbonisation is an urgent priority for us and the world. Our strategy sets a new direction for us to decarbonise our assets and our products and grow by investing in those materials that are essential to a low-carbon future.

To deliver the strategy, we are focused on four key objectives, including our drive for impeccable ESG credentials and maintaining our social licence to operate. We must ensure all our stakeholders benefit from our success. To do this, our business priorities and performance must align with society’s expectations, which are constantly evolving. Robust and trusting relationships with our stakeholders are essential to secure a strong future for our business while ensuring we make meaningful contributions to our host communities and help address the world’s most urgent challenges.

Our sustainability framework

Our sustainability framework describes how we manage issues important to us and to our stakeholders and how we contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

We are entrusted with accessing the world’s essential materials and making them available for society’s use.

These resources are finite and we recognise our responsibility to extract the full value from the minerals and materials we produce while avoiding harm and mitigating impacts to people and the planet.

Excellence in managing the fundamentals of our business gives us the opportunity to make more substantial and meaningful contributions to society. We are working in partnership with others to support fairer, more sustainable and inclusive communities where we operate.

It has been a transitional year at Rio Tinto and in 2022, we will further define ambitions for each of our focus areas, in line with our goal to achieve impeccable ESG credentials.

  • Supplying low-intensity materials

    Decarbonising our value chains (Scope 3) and maximising the full value of our resources (critical minerals and circularity).

  • Caring for our planet: Being a trusted steward of resources

    Minimising environmental and heritage impacts and managing the interrelationship between water, biodiversity and our resilience to a changing environment.

  • Caring for people and communities: Being a socially responsible business partner

    Building a healthy, diverse and inclusive workforce, supporting local communities to achieve their goals and aspirations and delivering enduring positive social outcomes

  • Supporting economic opportunity

    Catalysing improved economic outcomes in host communities and regions and playing our role to advance a fair and socially inclusive energy transition.

Our approach to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

In 2021, we refreshed the way we think about sustainability and more clearly articulated how we are supporting our priority United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Our sustainability framework reflects our focus on the two lead goals – SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) – that we feel are most relevant to operating our business responsibly, and where we can have the most significant impact. Our business operations also contribute to eight supporting SDGs (3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, 15) while SDG 17 (partnerships for goals) reflects our approach to achieving our sustainability objectives.

  • Lead goal 1: SDG 12
  • Lead goal 2: SDG 8

SDG 12 relates to how we mine, process and produce materials and contribute to ethical global supply chains, including trusted lifecycle assessments. This SDG builds on our existing health, safety, environment and community performance standards and our membership of responsible production and product stewardship programmes. It extends our thinking into how we can, in partnership, accelerate efforts to decarbonise our own operations, and those of our customers, and extract the most value from the materials we produce.

To further this goal in 2021, we:

  • Announced new climate targets, including new commitments to reduce scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50% by 2030. We also intend to invest $7.5 billion in climate abatement projects until 2030, including the installation of 1 gigawatt of solar and wind power in the Pilbara.
  • Recovered critical mineral by-products from waste across several sites, including tellurium, a critical mineral used in solar panels from Kennecott Copper, lithium from our borates business in the US, scandium oxide at Rio Tinto Fer et Titane and monazite at QIT Madagascar Minerals.
  • Launched START, the first sustainability label for aluminium using blockchain technology, setting a new standard in transparency and traceability for the industry.
  • Achieved industry and commodity accreditations and certifications, including Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, Copper Mark, the ICMM Performance Expectations, the Responsible Jewellery Council and the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining standard to independently verify our ESG performance.
  • Signed two memoranda of understanding with POSCO and BlueScope to investigate options to decarbonise the steel value chain.
  • Developed a business model and signed a memorandum of understanding with our partner RESOLVE to form Regeneration Enterprises, a for-purpose and for-profit company that will combine the re-mining and processing of waste with site closure and rehabilitation, with the ambition to create full restoration outcomes.

SDG 8 speaks directly to our values and commitments to creating a safe and inclusive working environment, as well as promoting education and training partnerships that support social and economic development and help develop skills for the future. We are committed to ensuring Traditional Owners and Indigenous peoples have a stronger voice in the decisions that affect their lands. Alignment with this goal also requires us to think carefully about how the decisions we make today will impact communities in the future.

To further this goal in 2021, we:

  • Expanded our target of a 2% increase in the number of women in leadership roles, to a 2% increase in women in all roles across our business. While we did not meet the target. On a broader level, we increased the representation of women in our workforce by 1.5%.
  • Committed $50 million in Indigenous leadership development in Australia over five years. In 2021, the number of Australian Indigenous leaders in our business increased fivefold.
  • Continued our commitment to source and hire locally, wherever possible, through asset-based employment and local procurement targets. For example, in Mongolia more than 96.5% of Oyu Tolgoi’s workforce is Mongolian, of which 22% are from the neighbouring communities in our host Umnugovi province. In 2021, 71% of total operational procurement was spent in country.
  • Developed partnerships and contributed $72 million to community programmes covering health, education, environment, agricultural and business development.

Some initiatives included:

Voluntary commitments, accreditations and memberships

We take part in a number of global, national and regional organisations and initiatives that inform our sustainability approach and standards, which in turn allows us to better manage our risks. External organisations and initiatives assess and recognise our performance, and we participate in industry accreditation programmes for some of our products.

These organisations and initiatives include the following:

  • Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI)

    The ASI aims to create sustainability and transparency throughout the aluminium industry. It has developed the world’s first global Responsible Aluminium Standard, used to assess environmental, social and governance practices across the aluminium supply chain for responsible sourcing. We were the first company in the world to receive certification under the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI).

  • Blue Green Alliance (BGA)

    The BGA aims to solve environmental challenges in ways that create and maintain quality jobs and build a stronger, fairer economy. We are on the Advisory Board of the BGA.

  • Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)

    BSR is a global non-profit organisation that works with its network of more than 250 member companies and other partners to build a just and sustainable world. As a member, we share information on sustainable practices.

  • Copper Mark

    Developed by the International Copper Association – with input from a range of stakeholders, including customers, NGOs and producers – The Copper Mark is a comprehensive assurance framework to demonstrate the copper industry’s responsible production practices and contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our copper operations at Kennecott in the US and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia were the first producers to be awarded the Copper Mark – verifying the copper is responsibly produced.

  • Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)

    We are a founding member of the EITI and have played an active role in this global standard since 2003. The EITI promotes open and accountable management of natural resources to make sure our activities benefit the many, not the few. We are transparent about the taxes and royalties we pay – publishing an annual Taxes paid report since 2010.

  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

    GRI is an international independent organisation with an international framework and standards for sustainability reporting. Our Group-level sustainability reporting is informed by the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (Core option) and the GRI Mining and Metals Sector Supplement.

  • International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM)

    As a member, we commit to implementing and reporting on ICMM’s 10 Principles for Sustainable Development. These cover corporate governance, environmental stewardship and community engagement. Our Chief Executive is a member of the ICMM Council, and we participate actively in various working groups, such as the climate change and energy working group. In 2021, our Chief Executive signed the ICMM Climate Change statement, committing Rio Tinto and other member companies to a goal of net zero by 2050 or sooner.

    We are also committed to implementing the ICMM Performance Expectations (PEs). The ICMM Mining Principles framework focuses on implementation of systems and practices related to a broad range of sustainability areas. Eleven Rio Tinto managed assets completed self-assessments in 2021. These assets met the requirements in the areas of ethical business practice, decision-making, health and safety, social performance and stakeholder engagement. Our teams identified opportunities to improve our performance in human rights, risk management, environmental performance, conservation of biodiversity and responsible production.

  • Kimberley Process

    We participate in the Kimberley Process (KP) through our involvement with the World Diamond Council (WDC). The KP is a joint initiative between governments, diamond industry bodies and civil society organisations, mandated by the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, to stem the flow of “conflict diamonds”.

  • London Bullion Market Association (LBMA)

    The LBMA has renewed Rio Tinto Kennecott’s responsible gold and silver certificate, which guarantees that the precious metals produced from Kennecott’s refinery are accepted and traded globally. The certificate is one of the requirements for precious metals refineries to be placed on the LBMA’s Good Delivery List, an internationally recognised standard for quality and responsible production. Many precious metal exchanges will accept gold and silver bars only from refiners who appear on the GDL.

  • Natural Diamond Council

    We are a founding member of the Natural Diamond Council whose mission is to advance the integrity of the diamond and jewellery industry to inspire, educate and protect the consumer.

  • OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

    The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are recommendations by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries. They include non-binding principles and standards for responsible business conduct in a global context consistent with applicable laws and internationally recognised standards. These guidelines are a multilaterally agreed and comprehensive code of responsible business conduct that governments have committed to promoting.

  • Proteus Partnership

    The Proteus Partnership was formed in 2003 as a collaborative effort between leading extractive companies and the United Nations Environmental Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) to improve accessibility to biodiversity data for better decision making and support the further development of global biodiversity resources. As a Proteus Partner, we have access to the UNEP-WCMC online biodiversity assessment tool, which allows us to scan for potential sensitive areas in places where we are seeking tenure before major investments are made.

  • Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)

    The RJC is an international non-profit organisation that promotes transparent and responsible ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices throughout the jewellery industry – from mine to retail. We are a founding member and were the first mining company to be certified in 2012. Since then, we have continued to uphold the ESG standards and maintained RJC certification, which needs to be renewed once every three years. We were re-certified in 2021 against the RJC Code of Practice Standards. RJC certification covers operations or activities of our businesses that produce diamonds, gold or gold in concentrates that contribute to the jewellery supply chain. This includes our diamond mines – Diavik in Canada and Argyle in Western Australia – and our Kennecott copper mine in the US, for gold.

  • The B Team Responsible Tax Principles

    We are a signatory to The B Team Responsible Tax Principles, developed by a group of cross-sector, cross-regional companies to define what leadership in responsible tax looks like. The disclosures in our Taxes Paid Report, available on our website, demonstrate our approach to the B Team’s seven Responsible Tax Principles.

  • Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM)

    We participate in the TSM programme through our membership of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC). TSM is a sustainability certification scheme that applies to members of MAC operating in Canada.

  • United Nations Global Compact (UNGC)

    The UNGC is a voluntary initiative based on CEO commitments to implement universal sustainability principles and to take steps to support UN goals. As members, we incorporate the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact into strategies, policies and procedures.

  • United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs)

    The UNGPs are a global reference point for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business. We seek to operate in a manner consistent with the UNGPs.

  • United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    The SDGs are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets endorsed by the UN in 2015. These present a broad sustainability agenda focused on the need to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice and respond to climate change by 2030. In 2016, our chief executive signed a public statement of support for the SDGs.

  • United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

    The UDHR is a milestone document in the history of human rights which sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be respected. We respect and support all internationally recognised human rights consistent with the UDHR.

  • Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR)

    The VPSHR guide extractives companies on how to maintain the safety and security of their operations in line with respect for human rights. Participants, including governments, companies and non-government organisations, agree to proactively implement or support the implementation of the VPSHR. We published our VPSHR report for the first time in 2018 (previously only provided to other participants) and have committed to doing this each year.

  • World Economic Forum (WEF)

    WEF brings together the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. It is independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests. The Forum strives to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance.