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Rio Tinto: Sustainability through Partnership
Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies, produces materials that end up in everything from cars to bridges, skyscrapers to smart phones. It also produces materials used in the technology of the low-carbon future, such as wind turbines and electric vehicles, remaining the only major mining company to have a portfolio free of fossil fuel production.
Since 2008, Rio Tinto has reduced its emissions intensity by 29% and absolute emissions by 46%. Today, 76% of the electricity used across the company comes from clean, renewable energy sources.
The company is working to be “part of the solution” in other ways as well. It takes a long-term approach to management of the environment around its operations – forming partnerships with the people who live and work around these sites and working in a culturally conscious and environmentally sustainable way.
Visitors can see this in action at Rio Tinto’s bauxite operations in Far North Queensland, Australia. Bauxite, the ore from which aluminium is derived, has been mined in this part of the world for about 60 years. Today, these mines, known as Weipa operations, supply refineries in Australia and abroad with the resulting product made into aluminium.
Weipa operations is located in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of Australia – on the Cape York Peninsula. The newest mine, named Amrun, is on land owned by the Wik-Waya people – Indigenous Australians who can trace their history in this part of the world back over 60,000 years.
Rio Tinto was the first mining company to embrace Indigenous land rights in Australia and, as such, the first to commit to forming land use agreements with Traditional Owners – Aboriginal people who have traditional authority over the land – in recognition of those rights.
Today, these agreements continue to pave the way for partnerships with Traditional Owners, through which they exercise their rights over the way their land is used and returned, ensuring that operations are run with respect for their Connection to Country – a physical, spiritual and emotional relationship Traditional Owners have with land, involving responsibility, custodianship and overall care.
Rio Tinto also continually works with ecologists, Traditional Owners and others, to study and care for the region’s plants and animals – including threatened birds such as the Palm Cockatoo and the Red Goshawk – to understand how to adapt operations to minimise disrupting them. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises: in 2013, the company rediscovered a small population of Northern Quoll – an endangered marsupial native to Australia – at the time thought to no longer live in the Weipa area. Rio Tinto tracked the Northern Quoll using industry leading technology; the resulting data allowed the Weipa team to protect the species’ habitat, both at the mine and beyond.
At Weipa, caring for the land also involves ensuring that – as much as possible – it is returned to its original condition before mining began. Every year, Rio Tinto plans to rehabilitate 90% of areas where it has completed mining.
Mining, by its very nature, has an impact on the environment and, at times, on the people who live near operations. As Rio Tinto has shown, mining companies can minimise that impact and operate in a way that respects Country – including the people who have, for many millennia, called it home.