Looking to a future of sustainable mining

The Sustainability Master Class programme has examined the CRS and future business models of the mining industry

 “Where will we find the space? There are no empty plots in Dhaka.”

 “What will we do with the waste? Can we sell the lead?”

 “If we intend to offer training, we will need more employees.”

The air in the meeting room of the Outotec headquarters in Espoo is buzzing with ideas. It’s a March afternoon, and the Sustainability Master Class, organised jointly by the University of Helsinki and Outotec, is under way.

The forty-odd participants in the class have been divided into six teams. One, dubbed “The Toads”, has been focusing with exporting enrichment solutions to Bangladesh. The idea is known as urban mining, and its purpose is to harvest the valuable metals in the waste produced by major cities.

The task now is to develop a plan that could be used to test this idea. The team has only 90 minutes until their pitch.

Chemistry and consumer incentives

The Sustainability Master Class is part of the University of Helsinki’s Master Class partnership concept. The Master Classes are challenge-based co-creation programmes which generate sustainable, concrete solutions to problems defined in cooperation with the partner. The Sustainability Master Class organised with enrichment and mineral technology company Outotec is the fourth of its kind. The English-language programme has brought together students and researchers at different stages of their careers and studies in different universities and faculties, as well as junior experts from a number of companies.

Doctoral student Minna Nevalainen, who is working on a doctoral dissertation on chemical technology at the Lappeenranta University of Technology, joined the class because her dissertation discusses the filtration of acidic water and is thus connected to the mining industry. However, her team, called “Systemico”, has tackled a completely different issue: reward systems which would incentivise consumers to recycle their electronics more diligently.

 “Our premise was that the mining industry much change radically,” Nevalainen explains. “Our team thought that focusing on recycling seemed like a reasonable solution.”

Nevalainen praises the programme. She was particularly happy to have the opportunity to work with people from a variety of fields.

 “I’m the only person from the natural sciences in my team. It will be interesting to see how the social scientists approach these questions.”

Multidisciplinary innovations

One of the Sustainability Master Class mentors from Outotec was Susanna Horn, Manager of Life Cycle Model Development, who has been delighted by the diversity of the participants. She was particularly happy to see so many students of business economics.

 “Ultimately, the idea is to think about the business aspect. The company’s perspective is that sustainability is not an expense, it’s a business model.

Horn also praises the course participants for their ideas.

 “I’ve been impressed by the creativity of the teams. They’ve come up with some great innovations.”

Sustainability Science in practice

The University of Helsinki will establish a new Helsinki Sustainability Science Centre which will use research and co-creation to find solutions for sustainability problems. A new Master’s programme with more than 100 students will also be launched next autumn. The programme includes Arctic studies, Indigenous studies, Environmental change studies as well as Sustainable forestry. The programme will emphasise the practical applications of sustainability science, and the Sustainability Master Class will be a part of the programme.  

The Sustainability Master Class Final Pitch was held on April 6, 2017. The first prize went to MineLoop, an online tool for real-time continuous communication between the mining companies and local communities, that enables effective stakeholder dialogue and data collection of both “hard data” from environmental measurements and “soft data” ie. feedback, questions and concerns from the locals.

Read more about the Master Class concept on the University website or in the Sustainability Master Class blog

More information: Liaison Manager Jenni Koistinen, Community Relations. Tel. 050 448 9176, jenni.koistinen@helsinki.fi