Certifiably sustainable mines and metals – The Intelligent Miner

Did you know that the smartphone in your hand, purse…


Did you know that the smartphone in your hand, purse or pocket requires around 60 different elements to produce? Maybe you did. 

But do you know where those minerals and metals have come from, or what it took to get them out of the ground and into your hand? I didn’t think so.

While products containing these materials are all around us – they’re essential to modern life – most have convoluted supply chains which contain multiple manufacturing steps and many different actors. Keeping track of each company’s credentials, and the processes, facilities and materials they use is, at best difficult, at worst, impossible.  

But interest in responsible consumption is on the rise and, for many items, like food, clothes and toiletries, the introduction of straightforward, globally recognisable certification systems has transformed the ability of consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. Certification also helps investors decide who to back, and companies up and down the value chain choose who to do business with.  

While environmental, social and governance (ESG) certifications for the raw materials sector do exist, the current landscape is complex and somewhat fragmented, with multiple certification systems available across each stage of the value chain, for different materials and different markets. 

Sandra Gerhartz 1466151834 e1706691966422
Sandra Gerhartz, Managing Director TÜV NORD CERT

German certification company, TÜV NORD, is planning to tackle this. On January 31, 2024, it launched the TÜV NORD CERA 4in1 certification system that it describes as “the first holistic, globally applicable, four-step process for mineral raw materials along the entire value chain up to the final product”.  

The four integrated standards – the Readiness Standard (CRS), the Performance Standard (CPS), the Chain of Custody Standard (CCS), and the Final Product Standard (CFS) – target all kinds of minerals and metals, including copper, cobalt and aluminium, from mine to market. They are applicable globally, to companies of all sizes.

I wanted to find out more and asked Sandra Gerhartz, Managing Director, and Dr. Andreas Hucke, CERA 4in1 Manager, at TÜV NORD CERT, to join me for a discussion. 

CL: Why is the CERA 4in1 certification system needed?

Andreas Hucke Copy 3410018135 e1706691917701
Andreas Hucke, CERA 4in1 Manager TÜV NORD CERT

SG: The raw materials sector is currently unable to meet the increasing demands placed on it in a manner that provides all stakeholders with an easy way to verify the sustainability of raw materials along the entire value chain up to the final product. 

This challenge is created by the sector’s highly complex certification landscape. Despite the general demand for transparency, the many different regulations for the certification of mineral raw materials and the correspondingly highly fragmented market currently makes this impossible at present.

We recognised the need for and the overarching benefits of a comprehensive ESG certificate for the materials sector and beyond. CERA 4in1 seeks to offer a unified certification process, ensuring global consistency and enabling companies, shareholders, and customers to meet and track ESG requirements from mining to the end product. CERA 4in1 establishes a model for systematic implementation of sustainability sourcing and processing.

CL: How does it differ from other certifications for mineral and metals supply chains?

AH: There are more than 100 sustainability systems in place, but they are limited in scope. The existing systems only focus on specific minerals, and the majority are targeted at specific minerals, phases in the value chain or at large organisations. 

The current certifications in the raw materials sector are extremely complex and often vary significantly. Ultimately, there’s no system available that guarantees full transparency through the entire value chain. 

CERA 4in1 is the first (and so far, only) certification concept that provides proof of ESG compliance from exploration, extraction and processing up to the end products. It will achieve this once all four standards are on the market. 

The system is more comprehensive than other existing systems. The biggest advantage that CERA 4in1 offers is that it targets all kinds of minerals, everywhere in the world and is applicable to any size of enterprise. Therefore, it can be used as the universal ESG system for the minerals and raw materials sector and aims to be the leading standard for responsibility in the raw materials industry.

CL: How does its release affect mineral and metal producers?

AH: The industry is confronted with the challenge of minimising its environmental impact, using resources more efficiently, complying with legal requirements and producing cost-effectively. Without the commitment to more sustainable business practices, technological innovation and a cultural change, the realisation and implementation of mining projects is becoming increasingly difficult.

CERA 4in1 presents the opportunity for certification regardless of size, scope of work, and processes. It also enables value chain actors to make informed decisions about the materials they handle and, in doing so, give first-mover companies a competitive reputational advantage when selling their products.

This approach makes CERA the perfect solution for companies of all sizes worldwide to meet ESG requirements for all raw materials in a structured and step-by-step approach. This allows companies to obtain certification at a low threshold without overloading their internal capacities. 

The first stage of CERA 4in1, the CPS, defines the ESG requirements for a production facility or a sequence of operations covering the operations of mining, processing, smelting, and refining. It enables mining companies of all sizes to receive a clear route to meeting the sustainability requirements of international markets. 

Certification can contribute to the long-term profitability and competitiveness of a company in the raw materials sector, making it a trustworthy business partner that demonstrates responsibility.

CL: What does the certification system mean for consumer companies and for end users of products containing metals?

SG: For consumer companies, aligning business activities with CERA 4in1 can lead to cost reductions through more efficient production, reduced environmental and social damages and lower financing costs. It also brings competitive advantages as it secures the social license to operate, improving brand image, access to exclusive markets, and increased attractiveness to partners, clients and investors.

End users are becoming more aware of the conditions under which raw materials are extracted. They expect transparency in terms of sustainable production.

Accordingly, consumers are – besides legal regulations and investors – the most important driver for the topic of sustainability in the raw materials sector, as it was already the case during the introduction of other, less complex products and value chains in the past. After all, sustainability is an important purchase criterion. 

However, it is often difficult for end consumers to understand the conditions under which raw materials were sourced. But there is pressure for this situation to change. With the growing demand for greater transparency, CERA 4in1 ensures that there is a universal metric, methodology, assessment, and success criteria that guarantees the ethical and sustainable supply and use of raw materials. 

CL: What reaction have you seen from the mining and metals industry thus far?

AH: The CPS’ impact has already been tested in practice. A major German car manufacturer carried out a comprehensive sustainability audit in accordance with the CPS in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of a pilot finalised in 2023 in collaboration with a cobalt mining company. 

The pilot project indicated several problematic areas inter alia environmental and occupational health and safety risks, inadequate risk and safety management, inadequate handling of hazardous materials, and inadequate waste assessment and management, for which corrective actions were subsequently taken.

In another pilot, the mutual recognition of a national ESG standard with the international CERA 4in1 standards was successfully trialled as part of a pilot project with the Spanish holding company, ICL Iberia. This case study is proof that national producers can also use CERA 4in1 to fulfil international sustainability requirements and expand their markets.

CL: Do you have a timeline for release of the other three standards?

SG: CERA 4in1 launches on January 31, 2024, with the CPS. This is the first of four standards that will be rolled out to the market over the coming years. The CPS supports production facilities in the areas of mining, processing, smelting, and refining in meeting ESG requirements.

The CRS, which is scheduled for the end of 2024, assesses exploration and mine development. The CCS covers traded commodities and run-of-mine and will launch in 2025, and the CFS, which evaluates the end product and its components, will come in 2026.



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