Business ethics and sustainability in the steel industry
A Tata Steel case study

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Page 3: Making ethical and sustainable decisions

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Tata Steel builds ethical and sustainable practices into all areas of its operations. Steel has the benefit of being truly recyclable but is produced by a process that produces CO2 emissions. Sustainability is about much more than CO2, but one of the major challenges of sustainability is to reduce CO2 emissions which may contribute to climate change.

Tata Steel is working to reduce these emissions using new technology and practices. For example, it has introduced technology to re-use gases produced at its Port Talbot plant to create electricity equivalent to 10% of its needs. This has reduced the need for natural gas for power and helped reduce its CO2 emissions by nearly 300,000 tonnes. Tata Steel’s work on reducing CO2 emissions is demonstrated through its climate change strategy. It has set itself specific goals, for instance, to reduce CO2 emissions to less than 1.7 tonnes per tonne of crude steel by 2012.

Setting priorities

Tata Steel has continued to invest effort and resources in relation to the five key priorities that underpin its vision with regard to climate change. These priorities are to:

  • continue to achieve emission reductions
  • invest in longer-term breakthrough technologies for producing low-carbon steels
  • develop new products and services that generate lower CO2 emissions through the life cycle
  • actively engage the entire workforce in this challenge
  • lead by example within the global steel industry.

While Tata Steel is taking a responsible approach to its own operations, in terms of choices made by its customers and end-users of its steel, it is vital that balanced decisions are taken. This means not just looking at CO2 emissions, but at the whole range of environmental, social and economic considerations. It also means taking a ‘life-cycle’ approach to decision-making – assessing products in terms of how they are made, used and finally disposed of. Often, just one phase is included, typically just manufacture or just use-phase. However, Tata Steel promotes life-cycle thinking so that decisions are taken on the basis of manufacture, use and end-of-life phases for any material or product.

Assessing environmental impacts

tata-3Life-cycle assessments (LCA) assess the true environmental impact of a product over its full life. They look at the environmental impact of manufacturing a material, using it and finally disposing of the product. Through LCA Tata Steel is able to show that, in many cases, steel provides the most environmentally-friendly material solution. One example of the use of LCA was on a project to find the most cost-effective combinations of materials and technologies to make low and zero carbon buildings. Zero carbon buildings can use low carbon technologies, for example, solar panels, to generate all the buildings' power. They are also built using materials with a low carbon footprint.

A critical part of this project looked at the differences made by using alternative materials for building structures. It found that whereas at the end of the life of a timber or concrete framed building the materials are destroyed or dumped in landfill, a steel frame can be recycled as new steel. This lowers the building’s carbon footprint. The results of the study have given designers and developers clear guidance on how best to create buildings with sustainable, low or zero carbon impact.

Tata Steel | Business ethics and sustainability in the steel industry
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