Experts have delivered a sweeping prescription to governments, civil society and industry for a globally coordinated approach to the responsible sourcing of raw materials needed to achieve a circular green economy.
In a report, the four-year EU-funded RE-SOURCING project proposes adopting the global vision of a circular economy and reduced resource consumption by 2050 and outlines a series of interim milestones and targets for three key industrial sectors: renewable energy, mobility, and electric and electronic equipment.
The report acknowledges several firms and governments are showing leadership in responsible sourcing to address troubling global environmental, social and economic issues, including:
Biodiversity and habitat protection, land, air and water pollution, climate change
Access to clean water, air & health care, gender equality, human rights, respecting land rights, labour rights, and safeguarding the artisanal and small-scale miners
Corruption and money laundering, promoting sustainable growth and development, and enabling national / local industrial development
At the same time, they underline that “the corporate behaviour that existed in the preceding century is no longer acceptable. More responsible and sustainable practices need to be undertaken and evidenced.”
Adds the report that the underlying message from stakeholders across the board is that “industry and its supply chains must incorporate and reflect societal values in their operations and business management” and “power imbalances, where they impede the ability of a group to affect the decisions that impact them, need to be addressed.”
Lead author Masuma Farooki says achieving responsible sourcing begins with a universally accepted definition and commonly agreed targets for 2050, proposing the following in the report:
1: Circular economy and decreased resource consumption
2: Meeting the Paris Agreement climate goals and environmental sustainability
3: Social sustainability and responsible production
4: Responsible procurement
5: Level-playing field and international cooperation
International cooperation, the report notes, means helping companies, regions, and countries improve practices and achieve agreed standards. A level playing field “is paramount for achieving all other targets.”
The report strongly underlines the need to address the power imbalance between local communities, workers and other affected stakeholders in decision-making, enabling their meaningful participation in decision-making.
Transparency is also fundamental. Consumers need to know how elements of the products they buy are derived, with adequate information to choose sustainably sourced products.
Key points in the report include:
Companies should not pass along to communities and workers the costs of negative impacts, such as pollution and land degradation
To reduce corruption and the financing of violence that have often accompanied extractive activity, transparency is needed in financial payments and material flows in supply chains
Standards and guidelines based on multi-stakeholder consultations, as well as certification schemes, and government regulations and legislation, are needed, citing several examples from the US and Europe
Among many recommendations to policymakers:
Strengthen international cooperation to develop harmonized mining standards for responsible extraction
Enable responsible mining in Europe (no more ‘burden-shifting’ to other regions)
Update mining regulations based on existing voluntary certification schemes
Eco-design policies for solar PVs and wind turbines
Lower taxes on, and give preference to, goods manufactured with higher social and environmental standards
Support recycling activities and create markets for secondary raw materials
Require Life Cycle Assessments for all new technologies/productsDevelop and implement environmental regulations for wind turbine and solar PV manufacturing and recycling
Harmonize environmental policies of EU Member States and coordinate responsible sourcing reporting criteria
Protect human rights defenders and support civil society capacity building
Make supply chain due diligence mandatory for all
Ensure that raw materials and products imported from outside the EU fulfill the same sustainability requirements as operations inside the EU
Recommendations for industry include:
Fleet electrification and decreased energy intensity
Plan for mine closure from the beginning of project development
Support local procurement
Include eco-design from the beginning of product development to improve recyclability
Include ‘social life cycle assessment’ in product development
Firmly eliminate modern slavery and forced labour in the supply chain of solar PV and wind turbines
Improve collaboration between supply chain stages, research, and academia to substitute non-recyclable materials
Cooperate with other sectors to improve reuse of non-recyclable materials.
Environment and climate reporting, including greenhouse gas accounting and reporting for the entire supply chain
Tailor-made climate protection projects
International application of environmental and social standards
The report provides specific roadmaps and recommendations for policymakers and companies in the renewable energy, mobility sector, and the electronic product sectors.
It also takes a special look at three regions: Latin America, Africa, and China.
Latin American mining projects can face particularly strong opposition from local communities. According to the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas 2023), 45% of reported conflicts worldwide are in Latin America, where projects are often located near sensitive, biodiverse ecosystems, many of which are home to vulnerable communities.
A key regional priority, therefore, is “strengthening of social capital and civil society trust in the mining sector with focus on the local communities.”
African regional challenges include “trustful and transparent collaboration” by industry, local governments, and others. “If the mining sector, communities, supply chain and governments work together, the outlook for the industry on the continent will be bright”
Among other key considerations for Africa: supporting and improving artisanal and small-scale mining operations, which plays a crucial role in obtaining many raw materials essential for the green transition.
China, meanwhile, dominates the critical green-energy technology minerals supply chain with rising investments abroad. A recent report associated China, however, with over 100 human rights abuses, environmental harms, workers’ rights violations and other allegations over the past two years in Indonesia, Peru, Congo, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and other countries.
It also notes China’s creation of guidelines to align companies’ due diligence with international standards.
The report adds that similar allegations are made against mining operations linked to Canadian, USA, UK, Australian and European companies and investors.
In the end, the report cautions, “the findings just underline growing concerns that the green transition to renewable energy is repeating unjust business practices that have long dominated fossil-fuel and mineral extractions.”