Primary industries include farming, forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying and oil supply. They are the starting point for nearly all production. Mined raw materials include coal, iron ore and copper as well as diamonds, platinum and gold.
There is an important distinction between farming, forestry, fishing and mining, quarrying and oil production. If carefully managed, crops, trees and animals (including fish) can be renewed and replaced. Mineral deposits, however, cannot. This makes it extremely important to use them wisely. Some, (e.g. most metals) are highly recyclable. Others, like coal, are not. These characteristics make the mining, oil and gas and quarrying industries particularly challenging, both for governments and the people who wish to manage them responsibly.
This presents challenges, especially when economic growth drives the usage of raw materials, e.g. iron ore which is used in the manufacture of steel for use in cars and many other products. World iron ore consumption has grown and is forecast to continue growing this decade.
This growth is driven by China. China’s rapid industrialisation and construction boom mean over the coming years China may grow to account for up to 50% of demand.
Anglo American is one of the world’s largest mining and natural resources companies. With operations in over 60 countries, it employs over 200,000 people worldwide (9,500 in the UK) with interests in:
- base and ferrous metals (e.g. copper and iron ore)
- precious metal (e.g. gold, platinum)
- industrial materials (e.g. aggregates – in the UK Tarmac).
The company operates in a growth sector dealing largely in non-renewable resources and principally in developing or transition economies. This case study considers how a business that depletes natural resources can contribute to sustainable development.
The importance of sustainable development
Sustainable development includes passing on to future generations a stock of ‘capital’ that is at least as big as the one that our own generation inherited. Capital in this sense means the world’s assets, these include money, buildings and less tangible assets such as the stoke of skills and social systems, as well as natural resources.