Teaming Up

Rio Tinto joins a consortium dedicated to sustainable mining

Since the resources on which the mining industry depends are precious and lim­ited, concerns about sustainability are central to its operations. To address these needs, a variety of endeavours that can help bolster responsible mining efforts have been established around the world. 

One such effort is the Sustainable Resources Engineering Education Consortium, which was set up by the Graduate School of Engineering at both Hokkaido University and Kyushu University. The aim is to strengthen and enhance mineral resource development education in Japan. 

The consortium is based on the Joint Program for Sustainable Resources Engineering that was started in 2015 by the two graduate schools. In 2017, the schools also set up the Cooperative Program for Resources Engineering, a master’s degree program that is Japan’s first joint resource engineering course. Seeking to develop graduates with international perspectives and a high level of expertise, the program has given Japanese students the opportunity to participate in over­seas internships, and has featured lectures from international academics. 

To provide further support for graduates on the program, the consortium has begun to welcome to its membership private companies and public institutions. One of those enterprises is Rio Tinto, which joined the Sustainable Resources Engineering Education Consortium on April 1. 


The Canadian spoke about the consortium with Bill Horie, Rio Tinto Japan representative director and president. He pointed out that joining made perfect sense, given the company’s global view and responsible approach: “We produce materials essential for human progress and our materials are essential for the low-carbon transition. These resources are finite, and we recognize our responsibility to extract full value from minerals and materials we produce, while avoiding harm and mitigating impacts to people and the planet.”

He added that Rio Tinto stands to play an important role in the organization: “As the only non-Japanese company participating in the consortium, we believe there is a unique role we can play for the consortium and the students of the program this consortium will support. As one of the global leading companies in the resources industry, development of future leaders has been central to our company objectives, and we are very keen to be part of it through the consortium. We have experts both in Japan and globally who are in various fields that are relevant to the resources industry. We look forward to having opportunities to share our experiences — for example, in how a mining company faces challenges everyday and what we do to find solu­tions — through lectures and interactions with students. Sharing our work with other universities may also be of interest to students, faculties and other consortium members, and we are keen to learn from both universities and other consortium members.”

Rio Tinto has many operations in Canada, and many products — including iron ore, titanium dioxide and diamonds — from these operations make their way to Japan. Furthermore, the company is involved in sustainable activities in Canada that may be of interest to the consortium. 

Horie pointed out that one of them is ELYSIS, Rio Tinto’s joint effort with Alcoa, which is supported by Apple Inc. and the governments of Canada and Québec. The endeavour aims to help further develop breakthrough aluminum smelting technology that produces no green­house gas emissions. 

And recently, Rio Tinto has become the first producer in North America of scandium oxide, one of several oxides of rare earth elements with a high melting point. Scandium is seen as a future critical material for the world, and Rio Tinto produces it from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production in Canada, without additional mining activity. 


The initiator of the consortium, Professor Naoki Hiroyoshi of the Faculty of Engineering at Hokkaido University, was enthusiastic about Rio Tinto’s joining, as he explained in a press release: “We sincerely welcome Rio Tinto, a world leader in the mining and metal industries, to the consortium. With Rio Tinto’s participation, we will be able to better pursue the consortium’s goal of developing sustainable resource-related human resources in Japan. Including Rio Tinto, 17 companies and five public organizations have already decided to join or support the con­sortium. We continue to call for more supporters to enhance this consortium further.”

Rio Tinto Japan’s Horie bolstered these remarks, saying: “Japan will continue to need raw materials as a manufacturing superpower, and that means it will also need future leaders who understand the resources industry. This is a great forum where we can work together with various stake­holders, both private and public, as well as top national universities’ faculty members, for a great cause, supporting future talents of the resource industry in Japan and beyond.”