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Responsible sourcing of metals – geologists help get it right from the start!

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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, right from the very first stages of thinking about new potential ore deposits. Gemstones and gold in jewellery are the mineral commodities that make perhaps the closest analogy to tea and coffee. 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. 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 to be compared and production methods adjusted to reduce the environmental footprint. These data are also an important link to the circular economy. Metals are wonderfully sustainable materials if we can look after them well.

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