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VIRTUAL GSL Public Lecture: Responsible manufacturing – getting it right from the start

14 April 2021
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Event type:
Lecture, Virtual event
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Geological Society Events
Virtual event
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Many of us buy fairtrade coffee, tea or bananas, but how many of us think about the origin of the raw materials in our manufactured goods?

We may look for a forestry stewardship council tag on wooden furniture, but are less likely to enquire about complex products such as cars or computers. With their thousands of components and long supply chains, responsible sourcing of these goods is difficult to assure but is just as important. Geologists sit right at the beginning of these supply chains and there is much that we can do to be involved in the responsible sourcing agenda.

Gemstones and gold in jewellery are the mineral commodities that make perhaps the closest analogy to tea and coffee. There are some well-known responsible sourcing schemes for these raw materials, including the Responsible Jewellery Council, Oro verde from Colombia, and the Fairmined scheme. Companies use responsible sourcing as part of their brand image.

For other minerals, public attention to a few high profile issues is accelerating the adoption of corporate ethics and governance schemes. It is often single high-profile issues, such as conflict minerals (‘blood diamonds’ and ‘coltan’) or child labour (cobalt), that are driving change.

Responsible sourcing of minerals is gathering pace but there is no single ‘responsibly sourced’ badge. The number of schemes is increasing, with initiatives that vary from the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) best practice guidelines and toolkits, mine site schemes such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), specific schemes for conflict minerals, and national schemes such as that which is being implemented in Finland.

Quantitative comparison of the environmental impacts of mineral production from different deposit types via life cycle assessment (LCA) techniques is a really useful way to link right from the geology of a deposit to the manufacturing steps. The LCA technique can be applied during exploration, at the very first stages of mine design, so that deposits can be compared and production methods adjusted to reduce the environmental footprint. These data are also an important link to the circular economy.

When thinking about metals mining, we tend to imagine overseas mines but we can also discuss what responsible sourcing might look like for technology metals such as lithium, tungsten and tin, for which there are active exploration and mine development projects in the UK.

We might finish off with a game of ‘Rare earths deposits deck’ - a Top Trumps-style game developed to show the kind of issues exploration geologists, investors and consumers need to think about when comparing mineral deposits.

Acknowledgement: funding was received from NERC grant NE/M011429/1, SoS RARE and the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 689909, HiTech AlkCarb). Geobus, University of St Andrews, helped with the ‘Rare earths deposits deck’ game


Frances Wall, University of Exeter

Frances Wall is Professor of Applied Mineralogy at Camborne School of Mines (CSM), University of Exeter, UK. She has a BSc in Geochemistry and PhD from the University of London, and worked at the Natural History Museum, London, before joining CSM in 2007

Her research interests include the geology, processing and responsible sourcing of minerals, especially technology and critical raw materials. Frances has recently led two international projects, SoS RARE and HiTech AlkCarb, and is working on aspects of economic development using georesources in Cornwall. She was named one of the ‘100 global inspirational women in mining 2016’ and received the William Smith Medal from the Geological Society in 2019.


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