Following are introductory remarks from the speech by Sam Walsh, AO, Executive Director and Chief Executive - Iron Ore and Australia, Rio Tinto, in Sydney on May 24, 2012.
Re-igniting the Challenges of Sustainability — Should We Be Afraid?
Any discussion of sustainability really needs to grapple at its outset with some questions of definition.
What does the word really mean anyway? It's a word that has gained phenomenal currency in the past decade or two and, depending on its context, can take on quite different meanings and overtones.
We hear it uttered routinely by environmentalists, economists, biologists, politicians, lobby groups, bicycle salesmen, wind-farm proponents, purveyors of alternative medicines and even mining company executives.
In the hands of all these different people the word can be put to work almost as a banner or slogan for their particular cause.
The one thing they have in common is they're all in favour of it. I can't recall ever hearing someone attack the idea or imply sustainability is not something for which we should all be striving.
We hear and read that we need sustainable water supplies, food production, economic growth, employment, education systems, logging, energy sources, industries ...
My remarks today will concentrate on another thing that, in my view, must also be sustainable — the mining industry.
When a word like this becomes so loaded with different shades of meaning, it's helpful to go back to basics and contemplate what it used to mean, back when public discourse was a little more simple.
The Oxford dictionary tells us:
1) Supportable or bearable;
2) Able to be upheld or defended;
3) Able to be maintained at a certain rate — or, concerning activities like agriculture or mining — not leading to depletion of resources or degradation of the environment.
As always, that's a good starting point.
My company, Rio Tinto Australia, is comprehensively committed to sustainability.
My intention today is to outline this commitment to you, aligning my discussion to the Oxford's sensible definition.