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BMW, Nestlé, Rio Tinto Alcan Develop New Standard for Sustainable Aluminum Sourcing

An aluminum smelter | Image credit: International Rivers

BMW Group, Hydro, Nestlé Nespresso SA and Rio Tinto Alcan and other members of the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI) have generated a new Standard to help improve environmental and social standards for sourcing the material, as well as government performance to improve the sector’s conditions throughout its value chain. The new Standard also aims to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are historically high.

With a year-long development phase, the new ASI Performance Standard is designed to moderate the production of aluminium, ranging right through from the bauxite extraction phase to the producers of commercial goods, and to the final-phase recycling of pre- and post-consumer waste. The standard focuses on 11 key issues: business integrity, policy and management, transparency, material stewardship, greenhouse gas emissions, emissions, effluents and waste, water, biodiversity, human rights, labour rights, and occupational health and safety.

28 of the industry’s top producers and manufacturers, including the companies above, along with with Fauna & Flora International, Forest Peoples Programme, IndustriALL Global Union and the International Union of Conservation and Nature (IUCN), collaborated to outline the criteria relevant to each of the sustainability issues inherent within the resource’s value chain.

“The agreement is a landmark achievement, which will deliver results all around — for nature, the mining sector, local communities, consumers and the aluminum industry itself,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN, which led the ASI Standard development. “The ASI Standard is an important first step. Once implemented, it will help companies achieve greater efficiencies and transparency, while improving their social and environmental performance.”

The ASI standard will come into force through a certified third-party system, with involvement from players at all stages along the aluminum chain. Final-product consumers such as Audi, BMW Group, Jaguar Land Rover and Nestlé Nespresso SA have announced their intentions to purchase only certified material once it is available.

“The aluminum industry is committed to maximizing the value that its products and activities generate, while minimizing their impacts. Working together with industry representatives of the aluminum value chain and of civil society to improve the industry’s performance and make it more sustainable is a win-win for everyone.” said Jostein Soreide, sustainability manager of Hydro and co-chair of the ASI Standard Setting Group. “We, the companies behind the ASI Standard, expect now to bring more peers on board.”

By incentivizing the reporting of credible, independent and verifiable detail on their environmental, social and governance performance by players along the aluminum chain, the ASI allows buyers to identify and choose suppliers based on their sustainability index.

Detailed criteria are provided by the ASI under each of the 11 chosen sustainability objectives. A key challenge for the aluminum industry is to decrease the greenhouse gas impact of its production (which is known to be one of the most carbon-intense globally).

“Under the criteria for greenhouse gas emissions, companies — recognizing the ultimate objective set by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – are committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as design and achieve a roadmap to reduce these emissions,” the Standard reads. “For instance, smelters will have to, by 2030, demonstrate that the level of direct and indirect GHG emissions (scope 1 and scope 2) from the production of aluminum is below a set level.”

This ties into requirements for resource efficiency and optimum recycling processes to reduce the environmental impact of new mining and smelting chains: “Under material stewardship, the standard requires consumer goods companies to focus on resource efficiency, design for environment and to develop recycling timelines and targets for end-of-life of aluminum containing products, which will improve industry resource efficiency and minimize environmental impact.”

Alongside environmental concerns, social impacts and human rights issues are also at the forefront of the new standard. To protect minority groups who have historically been exploited within the resource industry, the new standard states: “In particular for women's rights, indigenous people, local communities, and conflict-affected areas, which have specific requirements, companies must agree to uphold the UN-backed human rights declaration at all stages of their operations, and in particular where indigenous people and their lands, territories or resources are involved, specific measures are required.”

“This new Standard is the result of a truly multi-stakeholder process, which allowed different parties to share their own perspectives and priorities with the aim of reaching a positive compromise” said Pippa Howard, Director of Business and Biodiversity at Fauna & Flora International, and co-chair of the ASI Standard Setting Group. “The Standard represents a shared vision of what is needed for the industry to further improve its performance.”

To enable sustainability claims at the product-specific level, a Chain of Custody Standard has also been developed; it is to be released early this year.

The ASI Performance Standard should help end-users to better identify responsible suppliers for their aluminum sourcing, however many are already taking steps within their own operations to improve their resource efficiency. Rolled aluminum producer Novelis has taken the lead in developing more sustainable practices, including setting targets to increase its recycle capacity and the recycled content of its products to 80 percent by 2020. Working on a business model based on closed-loop recycling, the company’s targets will call for innovation and technological development to increase the capacity for aluminum recycling.

This has partly evolved from a push from end-users in the industry for lighter-weight, lower-carbon materials for their products (GM set targets to reduce its vehicle mass by 15 percent from 2011-2017), and sustainably sourced aluminum. Coca-Cola Enterprises, Tesco and Nestlé UK & Ireland are some of the companies committed to more sustainable sourcing, with aims to develop viable approaches for collecting flexible packaging materials to improve the recycling and remanufacture of the material.


Hannah Ritchie is a graduate in Environmental Geoscience from the University of Edinburgh. She is now working towards an MSc in Carbon Management, with an interest developing a fair and equal model for working towards a sustainable future across the… [Read more about Hannah Ritchie]


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