How can we balance unavoidable mineral extraction against climate goals?

JS Pelland is executive director of Eland Cables

The world risks missing climate targets, but it’s not as simple as halting carbon-intensive operations such as mining and smelting. The affronting fact is we need to increase output to keep pace with demand.

“It’s a delicate balance to be both sustainable and commercial”

There’s a disconnect in public perception. We expect lights to go on at the flick of a switch, electric vehicles to be charged, messages to be shared instantly, and fast and clean train journeys. We’re consuming more but expecting better. You can’t uncouple the industrial demands from the end-user actions.

Enterprise can lead the way

There is additional sustainability legislation coming, but until then driving change is the responsibility of individual businesses and is reliant on the appetite of individual business owners. What does that mean? For now, it’s a decision to do the right thing: to invest in sustainable operations and commit to continuous improvement.

Enterprise-level businesses are big enough to make these positive changes, and agile enough to make it happen quickly. In many ways it’s ‘Goldilocks’: small businesses may have the desire but not the bandwidth; big business the commitment but not the speed. Enterprise is a sweet-spot in the supply chain, having downstream conversations with customers to highlight how our actions can support their green goals, and sharing of experiences upstream to encourage positive change.

The key to the sustainability conundrum is a grown-up, realistic conversation about where practical, available and achievable green measures meet commercial sensibility to ensure viability. Enterprise-level businesses, neither small nor big, have the latitude and agility to action these changes with speed, while supporting and encouraging the wider supply chain.

Taking the initiative and finding balance

Let’s not pretend there’s a simple solution. Using biofuel instead of diesel for HGVs, for example, is a cost that needs to be swallowed because it has a nature net-positive impact. It’s a delicate balance to be both sustainable and commercial.

As part of the supply chain supporting these decarbonisation projects we’re duty-bound to feed into the green transition by taking steps to be more sustainable – to deliver a balance of environmental protections and ethical practices, alongside looking after your staff and your communities. After all, without your staff you cannot deliver on business commitments. Without customers you can have environmentally positive actions but there’s no reason to use them – and no ability to pay your overheads.

The route to sustainability can seem daunting if faced with a blank sheet, but it’s about being practical as well as aspirational. Yes, there is upfront investment in many cases, but not all, and lots of small changes can add up to big gains. Every little helps – then you iterate and improve.

The weight of responsibility

As a parent as well as a business owner, sustainability is about more than compliance and market position – if I don’t do it for my children, who will?  It’s a moral imperative as well as a commercially sensible decision.

Net zero is the ideal. Raw mineral extraction isn’t net zero with the technology currently available to us – but there are people working on it. In the meantime, it’s evolution not revolution.

There’s no question we need to decarbonise – but whatever technology we use requires (at least currently) an investment in power distribution. That means copper and aluminium conductors for electrical cables. These green transition projects have to be financially and commercially viable, delivering results and returns for their owners as well as environmental results.

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