Canada leads a sustainable mining push

Companies must mine more sustainably to reap the full benefits of critical mineral demand from the energy transition, says Teck Resources CEO Jonathan Price. Smruthi Nadig finds out Canada’s mining industry is leading in ESG standards.

Teck Resources CEO Jonathan Price. Credit: Betty Laura Zapata/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Canada is a global leader in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards for mining, with nearly 50% of the world's publicly listed mining and mineral exploration companies based in the country.  

Canada sees itself as one of the world's leading potential suppliers of minerals and materials for clean energy technologies. “Critical minerals are the building blocks for the green and digital economy. There is no energy transition without critical minerals: no batteries, no electric cars, no wind turbines and no solar panels,” the government states on its website.  

Yet, although it has promising opportunities, many remain untapped.  

Now, Jonathan Price, CEO of Teck Resources, one of Canada’s largest mining companies, has warned that companies must step up their efforts to protect the environment. Only if they do, they will be able to develop – and profit from – the supplies of metals required for the world's transition to clean energy.  

Opposition to mines that extract copper, lithium and iron ore will continue to rise unless the mining industry improves its track record, he told the Financial Times in January 2024. “We need to [encourage] investment in new mines and new capacity for the future if we are going to meet the demand we see ahead.”

Teck Resources’ journey sustainability leadership

Governments have been exercising more control over mineral resources, in part due to the mining industry's perceived harmful impact on nature. Mining projects are usually extensive infrastructure initiatives that can lead to environmental damage ranging from deforestation and the displacement of animals from their natural habitats to the pollution of local freshwater supplies. 

“The mining industry owes its very existence to nature. At a time when the health of our natural world is in peril yet the demand for critical minerals is set to soar, we have committed to significant collective action to help create a positive future,” said Rohitesh Dhawan, president and CEO of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) on 17 January, when major mining and metals companies worldwide pledged to take immediate action to support nature. 

"These commitments build on the significant individual goals and actions of ICMM members over several decades, including habitat conservation, species protection, and landscape restoration,” he added. ICMM members, who constitute one third of the global industry, committed to a future that "promotes the health, diversity and resilience of species, ecosystems and natural processes” by 2030. 

“At Teck, we’re taking action to conserve and restore nature while [providing] the critical minerals the world needs to decarbonize,” said Price in his capacity as the ICMM Nature Advisory Group's chair. “For us, that means implementing initiatives including conserving and reclaiming at least three hectares [of nature] for every one hectare we affect through mining.”  

Teck Resources is taking measures to reduce its carbon footprint and other greenhouse gas emissions, according to research conducted by GlobalData. The mining company aims to achieve net-zero electricity emissions by 2025 and net-zero overall emissions by 2050. 

Its commitment to addressing climate change and reducing emissions is supported by its engagement with various trade associations pursuing more sustainable mining. It has invested in climate action programmes and promotes carbon pricing and carbon credits.

Teck’s Highland Valley Copper and Trail operations, and five Elk Valley steelmaking coal mines in British Columbia are subject to one of the most comprehensive and progressive carbon tax systems in the world.

Teck’s Highland Valley Copper and Trail operations, and five Elk Valley steelmaking coal mines in British Columbia, Canada, are subject to one of the most comprehensive and progressive carbon tax systems in the world. The tax was implemented in 2008, and currently imposes a price of CA$30 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO²).  

Teck claims to be the first Canadian resource company to join the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, a partnership of national and sub-national governments, businesses, and organisations working to integrate carbon pricing into the global economy. It is also working with its clients and transportation providers to establish low-carbon supply chain corridors to reduce the emissions intensity of its shipping operations by 40%.  

On 15 August 2023, Danish shipping company Norden and Teck agreed to reduce CO² emissions in Teck's steelmaking coal supply chain. The savings should come from fuel-efficient ships and alternative fuels such as biofuels, as well as advanced data analytics to optimise vessel speed and routing. As a result of the agreement, annual emissions from Teck shipments handled by Norden are expected to decrease by 25% or up to 6,700 tonnes of CO². 

Last month, Teck was recognised as one of the 2024 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations by Corporate Knights, a Canada-based media and research company. This marks the sixth year the company has been named to the list. 

“Sustainable investment data identifies those companies that will be poised to succeed in transitioning to a low-carbon economy,” said Matthew Malinsky, research manager at Corporate Knights, in a press release on 17 January. “We can see which of these companies are going all in on sustainable investment and have watched the ratio grow for some of these companies from 20% to 30% to 50% [sustainable investment] over three years.”

Canada invests in sustainability to strengthen supply chains

Canada's mining industry is a global leader, with vast reserves of minerals and metals extracted from its diverse landscapes. However, the Canadian mining industry has faced criticism in recent years for its direct and indirect involvement in environmental degradation, human rights violations, widespread sexual assault, extrajudicial killings, tax evasion and other forms of corporate abuse, reports the Regional Studies Association (RSA), a think tank. 

The mining industry can avoid operational disruptions and divestment by implementing human rights standards, says the International Energy Agency (IEA). The RSA recommends that the Canadian Government establish strict and binding regulatory mechanisms, such as mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, to ensure accountability. Additionally, it calls for the creation of a public ownership registry to identify corporate owners and expose prevalent white-collar crime in the industry.  

The RSA also promotes a brake on consumption. “We need to reduce our consumption habits and advocate for a society where socio-ecological well-being takes precedence over corporate profits and excess-accumulation,” the RSA said in its report.

The government is investing in sustainable energy and transportation infrastructure to support industrial development, unlock priority mineral deposits, improve supply chain resilience and facilitate international trade.

The Canadian Government recognises the pressure on value chains to become cleaner and fairer. It also sees its allies in Europe looking to diversify critical mineral supplies to avoid a repeat of the dependency on critical resources, such as gas, laid bare by the Ukraine-Russia War. 

In its 2022 budget, the Canadian Government included up to CA$1.5bn for infrastructure development for critical mineral supply chains, focusing on priority deposits, as per a national Critical Minerals Strategy report. These investments will work in tandem with existing programmes focused on clean energy and transportation, such as the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Transport Canada’s National Trade Corridors Fund, and NRCan’s Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program, the report states. 

The government is investing in sustainable energy and transportation infrastructure to support industrial development, unlock priority mineral deposits, improve supply chain resilience and facilitate international trade. These investments will support Canadian economic development by enhancing the environmental performance and sustainability of critical mineral production.  

They can also increase the mining industry's competitiveness, cut energy costs, contribute to climate action, and promote a better quality of life and energy security, also for Indigenous communities in remote and isolated regions.