Over the past several years, people around the world have showed an increased focus on and demand for more sustainable products. The aluminum industry has responded to this need by developing new technologies to improve the environmental performance of its operations, as well as introducing standards to measure the effect of these developments.
Many primary production companies, in particular, have introduced sustainable aluminum brands that demonstrate a low carbon footprint that tends to range around 4 tons of direct and indirect CO2eq emissions per tonne of aluminum produced. With the introduction of such low carbon products, however, comes the need to track and verify that these products are actually as sustainable as they claim — which is often achieved through third party auditing.
Recently, Rio Tinto and Hydro have both introduced advanced blockchain-based systems to improve and verify the collection of data for their sustainable aluminum products. The introduction of such technologies will help customers meet the demand for greater transparency on where and how the products they purchase are made.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is a technology that allows for data to be validated and subsequently stored as an immutable ‘block’ through a peer-to-peer community on a digital database, building on the principles of distributed ledger technology. The resulting blockchain is immutable because every block is validated based on previous blocks, making it near to impossible to alter — as the modification of a recorded transaction would require modifying all previous blocks. Blocks are validated by an algorithm to ensure replication among nodes is undertaken. Third-party verification of processes on integrity of adding data as well as data checks add further confidence that product claims are trustworthy and documented.
For the aluminum industry, a blockchain-enabled system has the power to provide provenance and ensure that responsible production claims are accurate. Essentially, a producer can document product quality, environmental impact, and sustainability improvements distinctive to their products and make it available in a blockchain-based ecosystem. This creates differentiation in a competitive market increasingly looking for transparency and builds added trust in third party-validated sustainability claims.
Blockchains are thus able to ensure trustworthiness and security based on three factors:
- Each certificate or product label is equipped with a unique digital identity and therefore traceable.
- Documents equipped with a tag are therefore 100% authentic and unique and safely stored on the blockchain.
- Anyone can easily trace its origin at source and check authenticity and details on the blockchain.
Rio Tinto launched START, a “nutrition label” for responsible aluminum based on blockchain technology. The aim of the label is to empower end-users to make informed choices about the products they buy, enabling them to contribute to a sustainable future, and to differentiate between end products based on their environmental, social, and governance credentials.
“START is a significant step forward for the aluminum industry as the first offering of this kind, setting a new standard on transparency, traceability, and responsible production from mine to market,” said Alf Barrios, chief executive of Rio Tinto Aluminium. “Our vision is that our customers can showcase the sustainability of the aluminum they purchase from Rio Tinto to their consumers, delivering full value from our responsible production.”
Aluminum customers will receive a digital sustainability label — similar to a nutrition label found on food and drink packaging — using secure blockchain technology. It will provide key information about the site where the aluminum was responsibly produced, covering ten criteria: carbon footprint, water use, recycled content, energy sources, community investment, safety performance, diversity in leadership, business integrity, regulatory compliance, and transparency.
Through this program, the company will also provide technical expertise through a sustainability advisory service and support for customers looking to build their sustainability offerings, benchmark and improve performance, support sourcing goals, and access to green financing.
The START sustainability label is now available for aluminum purchased from Rio Tinto’s managed operations globally.
Hydro is working with DNV GL to initiate a blockchain pilot to document product representations for low carbon aluminum products Hydro REDUXA (primary aluminum) and Hydro CIRCAL (recycled aluminum).
The blockchain pilot system developed by DNV will provide an aluminum product passport, which is a unique digital idea attached to the product that will display key sustainability facts such as low-carbon aluminum and post-consumer scrap content. This will allow anyone to instantly check the validity, data, and authenticity of the product’s environmental profile.
“We see that our customers and their customers request trusted information documenting the footprint from our materials and production,” said Bjørn Kjetil Mauritzen, head of Sustainability at Hydro. “The aim of the pilot is to test a platform that supports manufacturers and brands to back their sustainability claims with verified data. This will allow them to trace the metal from the factory gates until it reaches the customer.”
In the pilot phase, Hydro and DNV will work together with the renowned outdoor furniture maker Vestre. The company uses Hydro CIRCAL in selected furniture lines. The product data from the blockchain platform gives the company and their customer traceability of the aluminum and its CO2 emissions, from raw material to a finished bench in a public park.
Hydro plans to roll out the pilot in 2021. The next step will be to review the experience from the pilot to assess how Hydro can implement the platform to a standardized model. Afterwards, the company plans to roll-out the platform to more customers.
“Ultimately this pilot is made possible through the work we have invested in our greener brands in the past years,” said Jørgen Hansson, project lead in Hydro. “As a result, we can now explore how new technology can provide the market and the conscious consumer with key data — presented in a way they understand and trust — as a part of our agenda of driving sustainability.