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Aiming for Leadership in Responsible Aluminum Production: Interview with Tolga Egrilmezer, Rio Tinto

Tolga Egrilmezer Tolga Egrilmezer is vice president Sales & Marketing at Rio Tinto and a member of the company’s Aluminium Executive Committee and Commercial Senior Leadership Team. He leads the global sales, marketing, technical, and product development teams to meet the needs of customers for Rio Tinto’s bauxite, alumina, aluminum, and value-added products. He is also a member of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) board of directors, promoting responsible production standards for the industry.

In this interview, Egrilmezer discusses Rio Tinto’s efforts to improve its sustainability company-wide. This includes the development of low carbon alloys, the introduction of a new environmentally friendly smelting processes, and its cooperative work with the ASI, through which the company has been the first to achieve two certifications.

Rio Tinto is a founding member of the ASI. Why did the company feel this was an important initiative to be a part of? What are the benefits that Rio Tinto expects this initiative to provide for the industry as a whole.

Rio Tinto sees aluminum — as I’m sure the industry does — as a metal of the future. We’re only scratching the surface of the opportunities and the role it can play in our everyday lives. As part of this future, we expect leadership in responsible production and sustainability will become increasingly important for our customers and the consumers who buy their products.

Rio Tinto has been leading the industry on a responsible production journey for some time now. In 2016, we launched RenewAl™, the world’s first certified low CO2 primary aluminum brand. Now we are very proud to be taking this pioneering step with ASI certification. It makes us the first company selling aluminum that customers can be assured has been produced to the highest environmental, social, and governance standards.

The development of the ASI has taken years of commitment and hard work by many parties — which Rio Tinto has helped to drive as a founding member. Our aim is to maximize aluminum’s contribution to a sustainable society, and to achieve this we have developed a collaborative forum that has brought together members of the aluminum industry with a broad range of stakeholders, including customers and leading civil society groups, to develop the world’s first Responsible Aluminium Standard. A cross-section of industry is involved, with members such as Apple, BMW, Audi, the WWF, and Union for the Conservation of Nature.

And looking to the future, we’ve recently announced the Elysis joint venture with Alcoa and support from the Governments of Canada and Quebec as well as leading consumer brand Apple. This promises to be real step change for the industry by bringing carbon free aluminum smelting technology to the market.

Apple chief Tim Cook has said he looks forward to one day being able to use aluminum produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of their products. At the end of the day this is all about supporting a growing role for aluminum in our world and catering to the demand we expect our customers will have for sustainable products.

Rio Tinto was the first company to be certified with ASI’s Performance Standard. What does this standard aim to evaluate? What were the steps that Rio Tinto had to take to achieve this certification?

There was a significant amount of work with both the ASI and the third party auditors who carried out an independent verification against the standards. They spent time at the sites that have been certified, covering the entire supply chain from our Gove bauxite mine in Australia to our alumina refinery, aluminum smelters and casthouses in Quebec. This is a wide ranging audit process covering not just greenhouse gas emissions but areas such as waste management, material stewardship and human rights.

ASI certification is a rigorous, independent process, which is as follows:

  • ASI represents 108 criteria to be fulfill against the Performance Standard and equivalent number (i.e. 100) against the Chain of Custody.
  • For each of them, we needed to complete a self-assessment, followed by a formal audit performed by five ASI accredited independent auditors during approximately five weeks and involving more than 50 persons interviewed on more than 15 sites in Québec, Canada, and Gove, Australia.
  • With Rio Tinto’s robust internal systems and processes in place, combined to rigorous laws and regulation in Canada and Australia, we were able to demonstrate (rapidly) the compliance against these highest standards of sustainability specific to aluminum sector.
  • Following the audit, a report and recommendation of certification was send to ASI which issued the certification following a strong audit process review involving ASI team and registered external specialists.

The Performance Standard signifies that the practices at five of Rio Tinto’s smelters and associated facilities in Quebec, Canada, as well as the bauxite mine in Gove, Australia, meet the highest sustainability standards. What are some of the practices that these sites implement?

Some examples of the requirements that we demonstrated in order to meet the criteria include:

  • Greenhouse Gas – Our commitment to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to mitigate its impact on the global climate, e.g. smelters shall not exceed 8 t CO2/t Al, including emissions related to energy used to produce aluminum (energy-related emissions). our hydroelectricity based low-carbon aluminum produced in Canada is definitely an advantage that differentiates Rio Tinto aluminum, where we produce some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminum.
  • Material Stewardship – Our commitment to take a lifecycle perspective and to promote resource efficiency, collection, and recycling of aluminum within our operations and within the value chain.
  • High Level of Integrity and Compliance – Our work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery, consistent with laws and international standards.
  • Women’s Rights – Our implementation of policies and processes to ensure respect for the rights and interests of women, consistent with international standards.
  • Non-Discrimination – How we ensure equal opportunities and do not engage in or support discrimination in hiring, salary, promotion, training, advancement opportunities, or termination of any worker on the basis of gender, race, national or social origin, religion, disability, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, family responsibilities, age, or any other condition that could give rise to discrimination.
Rio Tinto – Shipshaw hydropower plant
Built in 1943, the Shipshaw hydropower plant is a key component of Rio Tinto’s Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean hydroelectric power network. In addition to enabling more efficient water usage, the new turbine, completed in November 2012, achieved a key objective for both Rio Tinto and Quebec’s aluminum industry – it added: value to clean, renewable energy in Quebec. Shipshaw has a capacity of 947 MW.

In addition, Rio Tinto has recently achieved Chain of Custody certification through ASI. Can you describe what this certification evaluates and how it is different from the Performance Standard? What aspects of Rio Tinto’s worldwide business has enabled the company to achieve this certification? Can you give some specific examples?

We were required to demonstrate that material can be traced through a ‘chain of custody’ spanning sites that have each been certified to meet ASI standards. To meet this requirement, Rio Tinto developed a robust system to allow the exact tracking of ASI material produced at each step of the supply chain. This is done using a ‘mass balance’ approach, which is common in sustainable supply chain initiatives in sectors such as the chocolate industry.

Rio Tinto launched its certified low carbon aluminum brand, RenewAl, in 2016. Please tells us more about this product and how it is able to achieve a low carbon footprint.

RenewAl is a comprehensive package from Rio Tinto that includes a third-party certified CO2 content of 4 t CO2/t Al or below, which is around a third of the global industry average, and a customized customer services offer ranging from technical expertise to traceability, CO2 reduction strategies, lifecycle analysis, and co-branding. In other words, because recycling is not enough, RenewAl™ is a cleaner start to the product life-cycle. It can be delivered globally, wherever our customers are.

ASI, on the other hand, is a global initiative with producers, users and stakeholders in the aluminum value chain. ASI’s standards cover a broader range of sustainability issues and are applicable to all stages of aluminum production and transformation, refining, and re-melting of recycled scrap, as well as material stewardship criteria relevant to downstream users of aluminum.

We believe the ASI certifications and our RenewAl brand complement each other, allowing Rio Tinto to offer what is truly a unique range of products and service to meet the future needs of our customers.

What are Rio Tinto’s goals to continue to improve its company-wide sustainability? How does the company plan to continue to align itself with sustainability in the future?

Rio Tinto is now working with the ASI on audits and certifications for other sites in our global aluminum business. We expect our certification will encourage others to follow, both upstream and extending into downstream aluminum use sectors such as automotive, construction, and packaging. This can have measurable social and environmental impact and creating further momentum for sustainability.

Aluminum really does have a significant role to play in driving human progress and creating a sustainable future. In North America alone, analysts predict the use of aluminum in lightweight cars and trucks will increase by more than 40% over the next 20 years. For every 10% reduction in the weight of a vehicle, fuel economy increases by around 7%. Each kilogram of aluminum that replaces heavier materials in a car or light truck can save a net 20 kg of carbon dioxide emissions over the life of the vehicle.

So there is every reason to see a strong future for aluminum that is fundamentally linked to sustainability and now is the time for our industry to move in this direction.

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