Using sustainability certification to improve mining standards

Photo by Marieke van der Mijn, RJC, taken at Minera Yanaquihua SAC
© Marieke van der Mijn of Responsible Jewellery Council, taken at Minera Yanaquihua SAC
A recent study finds that sustainability standards can add value to the mining and minerals sector.

A report recently released by the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining at The University of Queensland, Australia, illustrates how sustainability standards can help deliver positive outcomes in the mining and minerals sector.

In the last few years the mining and mineral industry has been working hard to improve its social and environmental performance. And, this is a sector where there are a number of new standards developed, such as the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, the Alliance for Responsible Mining, and the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. ISEAL member Responsible Jewellery Council was one of the first standards systems to tackle the sector.

The report, Designing Sustainability Certification for Greater Impact, explains how civil society can use sustainability standards to hold mineral companies and governments to account. It also describes how companies and governments can use these tools to demonstrate that they are operating responsibly.

Transparency is key to preventing greenwash

The research found that sustainability standards add value for more than half the participants, with 52 percent of the comments indicating this is the reason they participate in the schemes. The majority of respondents (87 percent) also reported that “stakeholder participation positively influences the effectiveness of schemes, especially in the early stages.”

Findings revealed that monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are essential for sustainability standards to “assess their impacts, provide accountability, support decision making processes and improve credibility.” Along with transparency, which is considered key to preventing greenwash and false claims of efficacy.

However, the researchers found that it is not quite as clear when it comes to what type of stakeholders should be involved and at what stage. And, respondents reported that some schemes’ stakeholder engagement processes and M&E systems are more effective than others.

Robust independent assurance processes reinforce credibility

The researchers go on to explain in the report that the Theory of Change is an important aspect of schemes’ M&E systems and should be established at the beginning. They recommend that robust independent assurance processes should also be in place to reinforce credibility. In addition, they say to drive improvement, new technology should be investigated “to reduce costs, improve M&E mechanisms and improve effectiveness of stakeholder engagement processes.”

Recommendations

In terms of improvement, the researchers suggest that by working together schemes can improve interoperability and cross-recognition, stating that this should go beyond working with other schemes and include governments and multilateral institutions as well.

“Interoperability is an area that can make a big difference and a number of the research participants made reference to ISEAL as an important framework for improving how different systems can work together as well as with governments and other institutions,” said Renzo Mori Junior, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, University of Queensland. 

Interviewees also made a number of recommendations, including use of the ISEAL Codes as guidelines to improve transparency, to develop and implement a stakeholder engagement and participation strategy, and to develop and implement effective M&E mechanisms.

The report is based on interviews with 15 participants, including representatives from companies, NGOs, academia and standard-setting bodies.

Read the full report.

Listen to a recent webinar with Renzo Mori Junior.