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The SUMEX approach to sustainability in the extractives sector

This step discusses the need for a holistic approach to sustainability i.e. environment, social, economic. – accounting for environmental limits.

The approach of the SUMEX project is to look at sustainability via accounting for environmental limits and links to societal goals. An operationalisation of sustainable development often represents an isolated and one-sided perspective of what constitutes environment, society and economy. Such an isolationist view distracts from fundamental linkages between economy, society and the environment and assumes that trade-offs across these dimensions can easily be made.

This problem is exacerbated by the conceptualization of sustainable development which assumes that society is dependent on the environment and exists within the boundaries of the earth system (Rockström et al., 2009). As well as the fact that stakeholders’ norms and values often prioritize one dimension, creating tensions due to conflicts between the different dimensions (McCollum et al., 2018; Purvis et al., 2019). Therefore, conceptualization and interpretations of sustainable development inevitably result in tensions between stakeholders or trade-offs among goals across the dimensions of economy, society and the environment.

To overcome these challenges, the following steps need to be taken:

  • identification of areas of disagreement among stakeholders, as well as the anticipation and transparency of conflicting goals across different dimensions;
  • application of deliberative and participatory learning approaches with societal stakeholders; and
  • development and deployment of mitigating measures to enable a sustainable mineral extraction.

As a response, the SUMEX project developed a Sustainability Framework, built on a knowledge-based and stakeholder-centred approach. The sustainability framework for the extractive industry is based on fundamental scientific evidence (planetary boundaries), as well as important societal goals (Sustainable Development Goals, the European Green Deal, as well as EU Social License to Operate Guidelines).

The SUMEX Sustainability Framework contains three main topics:

  1. transforming the economy (i.e. considering the EU Green Deal);
  2. social and societal responsibility; and
  3. environmental sustainability.

Each of these are broken down into sustainability aspects. From a stakeholder and expert perspective, most of the tensions and trade-offs in the European extractive sector are found among aspects on ‘social and societal responsibility’. The next lesson highlights three sustainability aspects and discusses why tensions can emerge between stakeholder groups, concluding each part with a real-life example to address and resolve these issues.

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Sustainable Management in the Extractive Industry

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