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ICMM partners with leading research institutions to accelerate a global circular economy

23 May 2023

London, UK – Today, ICMM has announced new research partnerships with the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), the Enel Foundation and Circle Economy to investigate the role of the mining and metals sector in accelerating a global circular economy that contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aims of the Paris Agreement.

ICMM’s partnership with CCSI and the Enel Foundation will explore the necessary conditions that would enable mineral and metals to play a central role in a global circular economy. It will focus on the value chains of wind turbines and solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and zero in on four key materials: aluminium, copper, silicon and steel. The research will also explore how mining companies could adopt new circular concepts and operations, and interact with the value chain. This work will be based on information and data gained from collaboration with the industry (through ICMM members), policy-makers, investors, financiers, research institutions and downstream purchasers of metals.

ICMM’s partnership with Circle Economy aims to better understand the flow of the key transition minerals and metals that will be covered in the initial research with CCSI and the Enel Foundation, and their end use in use in solar panels and wind turbines in key markets. The research is expected to produce a clear set of indicators that can support mining companies and others in the value chain to develop partnerships and business opportunities that maximise circularity, while creating socio-environmental and economic value.

Minerals and metals are at the heart of a just energy transition. They will power our energy and transport systems of the future, and are critical in enabling a global circular economy. As mining operations become increasingly circular – by working to eliminate waste, designing land use to be regenerative so that it can continue to add value to nature and society long after the mine has closed, and developing initiatives to recover and repurpose metals from downstream products – we have a great opportunity to drive prosperity for resource-rich countries and supply the durable materials that that the world needs.

“But, to become truly circular, collaboration and innovation across value chains will be vital. We need to understand what conditions are necessary for these durable materials to be recovered at any time, when society needs them. ICMM is thrilled to be working with CCSI, the Enel Foundation and Circle Economy to help solve challenges impeding progress and accelerate a global circular economy at scale.

The mineral intensity of the zero-carbon energy transition will inevitably require an expansion in mining activities, but it will also require mining companies to systemically adopt circularity approaches, based on a comprehensive circular economy strategy. CCSI is excited to collaborate with ICMM and the Enel Foundation in continuing its research on economic, technological, legal, and policy aspects to drive primary extractive companies to respond to climate and broader sustainability imperatives by repositioning themselves as materials solutions providers.

The transition to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions future and the digitalisation of a growing global population will increase the demand for minerals and metals. By partnering at mine sites and along materials value chains, there is an opportunity for companies to accelerate and scale up solutions to increase the value that they can deliver in terms of social and environmental progress combined with economic growth. This lens enables companies and countries to rethink how value is created, in line with sustainable development for all.

The transition to a circular economy is essential in realising a safe and just environment for all. For instance, doubling the circularity of the global economy will bring the 1,5 ˚C pathways of the Paris Agreement within reach. The energy transition and shift to renewable energy systems should be a core focus - both to mitigate climate change and to minimise the need for and wasting of valuable minerals.

“Mining companies have a key role to play in implementing circular economy principles in the renewable energy value chain. They can minimise waste production, increase efficiency and implement regenerative principles at mining sites. Even more so, their technology, their expertise and their experience in waste management can prove vital for other players in the value chain that want to become more circular. Such contributions start with a clear definition of the end goal, consensus on the metrics and opportunities, and commitment to share best practices.

Findings from this research are expected to be published in early 2024.


Notes to Editors

Media contact: For more information about the project, please contact Kira Scharwey, Senior Communications Manager, ICMM (kira.scharwey@icmm.com or +44 7483 092315).

For more information on circularity in the mining and metals sector, please see here.

About ICMM

ICMM stands for mining with principles. It brings together a third of the global metals and mining industry, along with key partners, to drive leadership, action and innovation for sustainable development, ultimately delivering a positive contribution to society. Through collaboration, ICMM member companies set the standard for responsibly produced minerals and metals in a safe, just and sustainable world.

Project Partners

The Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, a joint center of Columbia Law School and Columbia Climate School at Columbia University, is a leading applied research center and forum dedicated to the study, discussion, and practice of sustainable international investment.

The Enel Foundation is an Italian think-tank focusing on the greatest challenges of our time in the energy and climate domains to ensure a sustainable future for all. By developing partnerships with pre-eminent experts and institution across the globe, leveraging on the vast knowledge base of Enel Group, Enel Foundation conducts independent research to explore the implications of global challenges in the energy and climate domain and offers education programs to the benefit of talents in the scientific, business and institutional realms.

Circle Economy is a global impact organisation with an international team of passionate experts based in Amsterdam. It empowers businesses, cities and nations with practical and scalable solutions to put the circular economy into action. Its vision is an economic system that ensures the planet and all people can thrive. To avoid climate breakdown, its goal is to double global circularity by 2032.