Mining is a complex topic. People don’t want such nuisances nearby but instead somewhere else, preferably somewhere far away. A NIMBY phenomenon which isn’t about a backyard only but larger region or a whole country. At the same time, we need minerals for our phones and gadgets, not to mention the batteries for electric cars. If this is the case, shouldn’t we accept that mining might as well take place in our territories and demand for sustainable mining practices? The dependency on rare earth materials is making mining also increasingly a geopolitical question.

Interestingly, the fact that renewable energy needs minerals has shifted the image of dirty mining towards mining as a key enabler of energy transition. Meanwhile, the concept of circular economy has fundamentally challenged the identity of mining sector, from quarrying virgin materials to re-mining solutions.

Source: Case Studies – Dirty side of green technology (

I have familiarised myself with the topic of sustainable mining in 2021 in two projects: supervising a perspectives report ( and co-leading a collaborative Masters’ course with Pia Bäcklund at the University of Helsinki. It has been an interesting journey into understanding the complexity of the topic. Students did fantastic work which is documented in the blog: Dirty side of green technology – Geographies of Inequalities 2021 (

Above is one of the beautiful maps that students made. It illustrates the supply chain of one rare earth material, cobalt, essential for batteries’ production. While the Democratic Republic of Congo is world’s leading producer of raw cobalt, Finland is the second biggest refiner after China, relying heavily in imported cobalt. Picture also quite clearly shows that mining is global business and the Corporate Social Responsibility should include the whole supply chain.

At the heart of sustainable development is the long-term approach, the famous future generations, that the Brundtland Commission so beautifully named as one key stakeholder in 1987. The importance of longer-termism is now gaining root among the investors and company leaders, as a recent article on ESG investment in Financial Times argued. On the one hand, there is the short-term survival in the midst of pandemic. On the other hand, there is growing awareness on the links between the pandemic and long-term systemic issues that can have  short-term impacts. 

One example of such systemic issues is the root cause of whole pandemic: the unsustainable way we consume and deal with the ecosystems globally. 

Applying a longer-term view in the usual governance routines might not always be easy. We wrote about this an article with Lassi Perkinen at the National Audit Office of Finland, using the UN Agenda 2030 as an example. In the EU, the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs came in 2015 in the middle of the EU2020 strategy and in the beginning of the multi-annual financial framework 2014-2020. Perhaps understandably, the EU simply later noted that the EU2020 strategy is aligned the with the Agenda 2030 and did not initiate any new strategy process for it. But this can also be considered as a missed opportunity for the EU to seize the moment and make itself a SDG-leader. 

Sustainable Development Goals

In the case of Finland, the Agenda 2030 came into the context where sustainability strategy had been renewed couple of years earlier. The main challenge was to align the strategy with the SDGs. Quite interestingly the SDGs finally proved to be more attractive than the Finnish priorities: the latest Government Report on the Agenda 2030 is structured according to them. 

The Agenda 2030 itself is reaching to year 2030 and is therefore not inter-generational. But reaching even to 2030 can be challenging in the existing government cycles. 

The power of clear and colourful SDG logos is enormous. The recognizable iconography has helped the SDGs to become a truly global brand.