Environmentally Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The principles of sustainable development involve integrating economic activity with environmental integrity, social concerns, and effective government systems.

These principles have had a growing influence on the development of environmental and social policy in recent decades. They have also been adopted and promoted by a number of international organizations including the United Nations and the World Bank. A number of industry associations, including the International Council of Mining and Metals and the Mining Association of Canada have endorsed the principles of sustainable development. As a result, they have developed their own guidelines to promote sustainable practices among their member organizations.

These practices include measures such as:

  • Reducing water and energy consumption
  • Minimizing land disturbance and waste production
  • Prevention of soil, water, and air pollution at mine sites
  • Conducting successful mine closure and remediation processes

In order for mining operations to be more environmentally sustainable, they must be conducted in a manner that minimizes their impact on the surrounding environment. A number of management strategies and technologies are being developed and used by the mining industry to reduce the environmental impact of mining.

Environmentally Sustainable Development: Initiatives


  • Water

    Water is used in a number of applications on mining sites. In response to water scarcity in many mining regions, a number of innovative water conservation practices are being developed and implemented to reduce water use. Water management strategies are used to reduce the volume of waste water produced.

  • Energy

    Mining and metal processing can be a very energy-intensive process. Reducing energy consumption at mines can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mining companies are also investigating renewable energy sources as a way to reduce operating costs and reliance on external energy sources including solar power and wind turbines.

  • Land Disruption

    Mining activities use land at every stage of the mine cycle, including exploration, construction, operation, closure, and post-closure. There are a number of ways to reduce the land-use impacts of mining. These include reducing the overall footprint of the mining area, minimizing the amount of waste produced and stored, maintaining biodiversity by transplanting or culturing any endangered plants found on the site, and planning mines around existing infrastructure where possible.


Environmentally Sustainable Development: Reducing Outputs

Mine waste is a biproduct of mining operations. It is generally recognized that preventing pollution is more economic and effective at reducing environmental impacts than cleaning it up at a later time. Methods for minimizing and eliminating waste in the production of mineral and metal commodities include:

  • Using cleaner production techniques
  • Environmental control technologies
  • Using waste as raw material
  • Reducing the amount of waste produced through process re-engineering