23/10/2020

The environmental sustainability of mines extends throughout the life cycle

Environmental issues are part of the daily operations of mines and included in their decision-making," says Environmental Specialist Hanna Lampinen on our blog.

Hanna Lampinen
Environmental Specialist, Finnish Mining Association FinnMin

What does environmental sustainability mean in the context of mines? How do modern mines in Finland take environmental issues into account in their daily operations? Can mines even be environmentally sustainable?

All mining activities in Finland go through a multi-tier permit application process that takes several years in its entirety. For large projects, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must always be carried out. In the EIA procedure, the impact of the project’s activities on the surrounding nature are assessed with modelling and other methods.

The authorities use the EIA as a basis when they decide on the regulations to be included in the environmental permit of the project. Regulations on emissions are set according to the carrying capacity of the areas affected by the project operations.

The project’s releases into the environment and their impact are monitored according to the supervision plan approved by the supervisory authority. Results are reported to the authorities weekly, monthly and annually, according to the supervision plan. If deviations are observed, they are addressed immediately.

Tightened permit conditions also require development

The conditions for environmental permits have tightened over the past ten years, which has brought more focus on issues like water treatment, for example. The mining industry has deployed water treatment techniques based on membrane filtering and lime precipitation to ensure that emissions from mining stay within the limits of the environment’s carrying capacity. The suitability of biological wastewater treatment to mining operations is also being researched.

The best available techniques are also used for establishing new landfill areas for mining waste and in planning the closure of a mine, for example.

Sustainability standard for mining provides tools for self-assessment and auditing

The Finnish Network for Sustainable Mining provides a neutral platform for interaction between the mining sector and its stakeholders. Members of the network include for example FinnMin, the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, Metsähallitus, the Reindeer Herder’s Association, WWF and Sitra.

The network created the Finnish sustainability standard for mining, to which most of the mines operating in Finland are committed. The standard comprises eight protocols that mining companies can use to assess and develop their operations. The protocols are:

  • Community outreach
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Tailings management
  • Water management
  • Energy use and GHG emissions
  • Health and safety
  • Crisis management
  • Mine closure

This year, operators have carried out a self-assessment on their operations for the second time. The first self-assessment was carried out last year. According to the standard, external audits are carried out every three years, so the first external audits under the standard are conducted for the first time in 2021.

Finland has excellent conditions for sustainable mining operations

In addition to the supervision of emissions and environmental impact, sustainable mining operations require researching and deploying new improved technologies to reduce emissions. It is also a sign of the operators taking the biodiversity of nature into account and conserving it. Sustainability must be ensured at all stages of a mine’s lifecycle. This includes the closure of the mine and the monitoring required after it.

Today, environmental issues are part of the daily operations of mines and included in their decision-making. In Finland, a mine cannot be opened, if environmental issues are not properly considered. In addition to complying with the regulations of their environmental permits, several mines have voluntarily committed to improving their operations in accordance with the Finnish sustainability standard for mining.

The raw materials from mines are important in climate change mitigation and the need for a variety of raw materials will only increase in the future. This requires more sustainable mining, for which Finland provides excellent conditions.

Hanna Lampinen

Environmental Specialist, Finnish Mining Association FinnMin