Sustainable Development and the Environment

To define the term sustainability, one could say it is the condition in which humans live within the earth’s capacity to carry or sustain them. This indicates that there is sufficient capacity on the earth to cater in a sustainable way for existing inhabitants and for the generations yet to come. At the present time, the human race must face the fact that the earth’s accommodation capacity has been surpassed thanks to man’s intensive industrialization, exploitation of resources, and pollution. This tells us that man must now make some determined and serious environmental changes so that earth is capable of sustaining the needs of its human inhabitants. These collective and determined changes should take the form of sustainable development. The first concerted and collective changes should apply at a micro level e.g. in industries such as mining where the total effects of small adjustments can yield considerable results. The sustainable development vision of the 1987 Brundtland Commission was to find ways to meet the current population’s needs without infringing on the ability of next generations to be able to meet their own particular needs. The notion of sustainable development (according to Brundtland, 1987) may be viewed as a process that encompasses the cultural, social and economic elements of human life in addition to the planet’s environmental wellbeing.

This article will look at the applicability of sustainable development in the Mining and Minerals industries to combat the challenges we now face. Some experts opine that sustainable development is the one properly-inclusive and intellectually-rational concept that has the potential to get even half-way near changing current mindsets and getting to grips with the real urgency and nature of the challenges that presently face the world. No other alternative really exists. 

There is nothing new about the idea of sustainable development since it combines ideas from the entire history of mankind’s development into a single framework with common goals. This concept is a crucial guide and type of benchmark for the many players, whether these are government agents, industrialists or civil members of society. The broad-ranging principles within the framework are subject to little, if any, disagreement among the players. This is the case even where different individuals and groups apply different levels of urgency to the various elements – e.g. the social, economic, environmental and governance elements – according to their particular interests, levels of understanding, and implementation ideas. These are the priorities that will decide the courses of action for implementing the general principles. The higher-level vision for sustainable development is not affected or detracted from by these differences, which continually take account of better and various approaches.

The following actions need to be enforced to achieve improvement:

  • A consistent upholding of the agreed framework for sustainable development;
  • Clearly-defined and continuous incentives and goals to change current practices for better ones;
  • Adopt the SMART approach e.g. an approach that is specific, can be monitored, can be achieved, is realistic, and is time-constrained;
  • Implement greater levels of cooperation and trust;
  • Build on existing institutions and structures wherever possible.

In some respects, today’s picture is brighter than a few decades back. There is still much to do to improve the contribution the mining and minerals industries make to every aspect of the sustainable development program. However, higher standards are now being applied to big companies, especially in terms of their newer operations. In fact, the best operators in the industry are now at the forefront of sustainable development, not just by complying with locally set regulations, but striving to achieve higher standards than other industries at both an environmental and social level.