ISEAL's Innovations Fund supports new partnership to develop scalable solutions to sustainability challenges in the MMM sector

Sustainability standards from the mining, minerals and metals (MMM) sector are working together to increase the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of their systems, supported through the ISEAL Innovations Fund. 

ISEAL member Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), alongside ResponsibleSteel, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) established the M³ Standards Partnership. The partnership aims to encourage the uptake of new sustainability practises across regions and jurisdictions in response to the growing number of standards in the space and a challenge from the Innovations Fund to support landscape-wide transformation.

The MMM sector is one that touches almost every person on the planet. Extractions stretch from oil and gas to gold, silver, copper, stone, and many more. These materials are used across a multitude of sectors, from power generation to jewellery, electronics and construction. Businesses interacting with the sector are increasingly trying to make more responsible purchasing decisions. This is largely a response to inherent sustainability issues within the industry, including well publicised human rights abuses in relation to conflict diamonds and environmental damage caused by waste by-products. 

In this atmosphere of demand for positive change an increasing number of standards have arisen within the sector. However, with overlapping objectives and differing levels of ambition, actors in the sector are witnessing stakeholder fatigue and risk reduced engagement with standards. 

The M³ partnership recognises a need to tread a fine line between unlocking efficiency and remaining effective. Two key areas have been identified where this balance can be maintained successfully – in joint assurance and with collective stakeholder engagement.

Within assurance, the M³ partnership is working on a joint audit protocol to be tested in the mining landscapes of north-eastern South Africa, where diamond, platinum, gold, copper and other materials are extracted near protected areas, native birdlife, and many rural communities. 

Meanwhile, collective stakeholder engagement is focused on driving coherence and reducing stakeholder fatigue, while unlocking incentives. This will see the creation of a shared and expanded international database of stakeholders (with an interest in the application of multi-stakeholder standards) and an ongoing programme for participating initiatives to engage collectively and strategically with all stakeholders – for example, with the M³ partnership acting collectively at major forums.

Long term, the M³ partnership aims to identify future opportunities for alignment, offer scalable solutions to sustainability challenges and increase the number of stakeholders engaging with credible standards.

The partnership is made up of a newer generation of standards, where there is a massive opportunity to do things differently and champion collaboration and alignment. In doing so the M³ partnership has great potential to leverage interoperability, while preserving the individuality of the participating standards. We’ve already seen similar successful collaborations in the world of standards, for example, between the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), GLOBALG.A.P and the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), who launched their first combined audit checklists for farm certification audits back in 2015.

Commenting on the M³ partnership’s significance for the sector, project lead and Executive Director of ResponsibleSteel, Matthew Wenban-Smith said, “What I find exciting about the M³ partnership is its aim to break down barriers – between stakeholder communities, standards initiatives, and up and down supply chains. There are many good reasons why standards and certification programmes often focus on a particular sector, but the potential to increase impact through collaboration is massive. We look forward to unlocking that impact with this project.”

Through increased interoperability sustainability initiatives have huge potential to improve the efficiencies of their systems and deepen their impacts across a landscape. Whether through scaling to certify whole jurisdictions, creating tools to collect landscape level metrics and information, or convening stakeholders to tackle leading sustainability issues, standards have an exciting role to play in this space.

The ISEAL Innovations Fund, is a grant-making facility that supports standards systems to test projects that drive efficiency and effectiveness. Our portfolio covers projects relating to data capture and management, risk-based approaches to assurance, supply chain traceability systems, and solutions that deliver greater value to producers. Our support is possible thanks to the generosity of our donors the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

This project builds on work conducted by ISEAL to understand how MMM standards can deepen their impacts and improve effectiveness through increased interoperability, funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, or GIZ).