3. Setting the Scene – Vision for a Sustainable World
In 2009, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) produced Vision 2050, a framework that explores a sustainable-world scenario for 2050 across nine dimensions and plots the activities and transitions needed to reach that vision. To translate this vision into action, the WBCSD launched Action2020 in 2013 and cited four objectives: (1) set the sustainable business agenda for the decade and share it with the global business community to inspire joint action, (2) help businesses understand the scientific, social and economic needs of the planet, (3) promote and support scalable sustainability actions for companies and sectors to undertake, and (4) become the priority-setting framework for corporate engagement.4 This paper uses the vision set out in WBCSD reports as a guide for considering the role of mining and metals companies in a sustainable world. It does not assume specific timelines, but instead looks at the key trends towards and objectives of a sustainable world. Figure 1 illustrates the Vision 2050 framework.
Our Vision for a Sustainable World
Vision 2050 shows that global leaders from government, business and civil society are increasingly committed to making decisions today to make the world a more sustainable place. But what does a sustainable world look like? The only thing certain is that the economy, society, energy, environment, buildings, transportation and materials will look very different than they do currently.
In a sustainable world, pricing, markets and business models engage differently to create a new economy. Alternative measures of success exist beyond profit and loss, where environmental and social costs, as well as their impacts, are considered and accounted for. Value is affected by these new measures and is recognized in the marketplace by investors, among others. Economic growth, no longer tracked solely with traditional indicators like gross domestic product, is assessed on the stability of economic development.
The global economy has become more competitive, diverse and inclusive. The capabilities gap across developing and developed economies is smaller, and the market structure provides roles for all players that maximize their productivity.
Businesses in a sustainable world provide solutions more than services. Collaboration with other businesses, governments and civil-society groups is commonplace, and partnerships underpin successful business ventures. The consumer has a much stronger voice, and organizations have established channels to interact with and learn from their consumers, rapidly adapting their products based on demand.
Change has not been limited to the economy; society has also been transformed. Longer life expectancy, combined with lower birth rates and reduced child mortality, has resulted in a larger, albeit ageing population. Access to key basic services including healthcare, insurance, banking and education has improved and is available in some form to all. Poverty is a historical issue. Greater economic opportunities exist for the world’s population, especially women, and improved access to capital and higher living standards contribute to increased global consumption.
Access to reliable, affordable energy remains essential. However, energy supply and demand are more diversified and are more effectively measured and managed. New technology enables power grids to respond to and balance energy supply and demand in real time. Power plants are designed to minimize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and a greater portion of the energy mix comes from renewable sources. Organizations and individuals actively measure their energy consumption and seek to limit demand to an acceptable minimum.
The shifting trend in energy is driven, in part, by a greater concern for the environment. A sustainable world is a warmer world. Sea levels are higher, drinkable water and arable land are limited, and the world’s ecosystems are increasingly fragile. Minimizing water withdrawals and consumption are critical business drivers. The balance between peoples’ values and private-sector requirements is much more attuned, and innovative models are used to ensure that land is managed effectively, water is accessible to all, and flora and fauna are preserved.
The urban fabric in a sustainable world reflects the population’s social and environmental needs. Buildings are “smart”, providing real-time information on resource consumption and efficiency, thus allowing occupants to improve resource management. Occupants pay a premium for plus-energy buildings, and existing structures are retrofitted with stronger, more flexible and lighter materials to minimize their environmental impact.
Converging trends of society, buildings and energy have contributed to sweeping changes for transportation. While a larger population has greater transportation needs, transport’s environmental impact is lower in a sustainable world due to efficiencies from greater integration and use of accessible, low-cost urban mobility systems and technological developments. Although alternative fuels such as electricity, hydrogen and hybrids are common, the largest gains in transport efficiency come from information technology. Consumers have access to accurate, real-time data to help them make transport decisions that minimize travel time, environmental impact and cost, while maximizing speed, safety and comfort. Vehicle manufacturers have developed improved processes and materials with significantly lower carbon intensity and virtually no particulate emissions. Closed loop designs reduce waste and increase opportunities for reuse of all materials.
Consumption is higher in a sustainable world due to a larger population, but consumption per capita is smaller as resource efficiency, circular economies and models such as sharing ensure material use does not exceed available resources. Robust life-cycle assessments drive the business strategies of material companies (e.g. steel, aluminium). Expectations are that established channels will exist for products which, having reached the end of their “life”, can be reused both within the original sector and in different industries. Players across the value chain work together to improve material efficiency. Industry, cities and consumers have access to a greater number of waste management opportunities in a competitive waste market. The combined effect of improved product design and waste management means the virgin-raw-material demand per person is lower; energy and water supplies are balanced, and GHG emissions are within acceptable limits.
For the mining and metals sector, the most relevant trends are in energy, materials, transportation and buildings. The sector has an opportunity to strategically consider how these trends could affect both the demand for products and the means of providing sufficient supply. The project planning cycles for mining and metals companies are sufficiently long that they can plan today for how they’ll operate in a sustainable world. Critically, communities, civil society, investors or governments will not tolerate unsustainable mining and metals companies, so a proactive response is imperative. With that context, the rest of this paper explores the role and contribution of mining and metals companies in a sustainable world.