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Embracing sustainability today to avoid a costly tomorrow

The pledges by BHP, HeidelbergCement, LafargeHolcim and other companies to clean up their industrial emissions, is likely to raise expectations along the suppy chain on quarries to follow suit. However, as Damian Christie writes, rather than reacting to them as a threat, the industry should embrace today's climate challenges as an opportunity ...

The recent announcement by BHP that it will spend $USD400 million ($AUD590 million) globally on new technologies to encourage its customers to reduce their carbon emissions could have interesting ripples for the extractive industry – if its peers follow suit.

In July, BHP’s chief executive Andrew Mackenzie announced that not only would the company set a new target to cap its emissions in 2022 at 2017 levels and from 2020 set a medium- term, science-based target for the decarbonisation of its operations – ie the “Scope 1” and “Scope 2” emissions from its operations’ electricity and diesel consumption – it would increase the focus on its value chain’s “Scope 3” emissions. “Scope 3” emissions are generated by BHP’s customers and estimated to be 40 times higher than the company’s total emissions. Mackenzie said BHP would assume a “product stewardship role”, working with the shippers, processors and users of its products to reduce
“Scope 3” emissions.

Environmental and corporate social responsibility groups have cautiously praised BHP’s announcement. Even Adam Bandt MP, the Australian Greens’ climate spokesman, reluctantly admitted that “BHP recognises the climate emergency as a clear and present danger” more than the major parties in the Australian Parliament! Faint praise indeed!

"Adam Bandt admitted BHP recognises a ‘climate emergency’ more than the major parties in the Australian parliament!"

It’s uncertain what BHP’s targets and goals for its operations and value chain will be and how these will impact its customers. However, it’s not the only multinational extractive company to commit to ambitious emission targets. HeidelbergCement, multinational parent of Hanson Construction Materials, recently outlined plans for a 30 per cent reduction of its emissions per tonne of cement on 1990 levels by 2030, and the production of carbon-neutral concrete by 2050. Earlier this year LafargeHolcim was among numerous Global Fortune 500 companies that lobbied the US Congress to enact climate legislation with economy-wide emissions reduction targets of 80 per cent by 2050.

It is impressive that influential extractive industry members are adding their voices to the climate debate – particularly given governments’ piecemeal policy approaches worldwide. This implies that not only are extractive businesses counting the costs of unsustainable practices and innovating but there is likely to be greater expectations on quarries along the supply chain to curb their emissions.

Although it’s not mandatory in Australia, we’re seeing progress with the introduction of cleaner Tier 4 diesel engines by OEMs into their earthmoving equipment ranges, and the gradual phasing out of Tier 3 machines. Companies like Epiroc, Sandvik and Volvo are also making significant investments in electrification and battery power in their earthmoving vehicles and drill rigs. Crushing and screening plants are also undergoing advancements in electrification (as exemplified at Victoria’s Lima South Quarry), thereby addressing “Scope 1” and “Scope 2” emissions. As these examples show, quarries don’t have to reduce carbon in isolation; they can partner with OEMs, other suppliers and customers.

Far from being an intimidating period of radical change, the industry should embrace today’s climate challenges with gusto. The industry wants to have a positive influence in Australian life, and coupled with sustainability expectations on the industry by regulators, the value chain and the public, the time is right for the sector to be proactive. Would it not be preferable for producers to follow the leads of BHP and HeidelbergCement now before regulation or other market forces compel them down that path – at the cost of productivity, profitability, jobs and reputation?

Damian Christie
Editor • Quarry Magazine

Damian Christie is the editor and a chief writer of Quarry magazine. To contact Damian, please click here.
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Wednesday, 18 September, 2019 9:16am
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