Irony: Medals made in America, uniforms made in China

Posted on August 02, 2012 by Minerals Make Life

We had the chance to speak with Rio Tinto, a leading global business delivering value at each stage of mineral and metal production, about how the company exclusively provided the metal needed to produce the 4,700 gold, silver and bronze medals at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In fact, some of the metal was sourced from Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Utah Copper Mine near Salt Lake City. After the interview be sure to watch Rio Tinto’s short video on how metals are used to create medals.

Question: Rio Tinto is the exclusive provider of the metal used to make all 4,700 medals that will be awarded at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. How many pounds of metal did the company donate to the games?

Answer: Kennecott donated about 97 pounds of gold, 6 tons of silver and approximately 3 tons of copper for the Olympic medals.

Q: There was, according to news coverage, a very grand and regal ceremony in London when the company handed over the metal to Olympic officials. I’m sure that was quite gratifying to the employees at the two mines involved. Anything you would like to share about that ceremony?

A: The Olympics brought Rio Tinto’s employees together and created tremendous pride in the work performed at all of our operations. Employees are proud to know that their work will be on display for the world to see and awarded to elite athletes as they achieve their dreams. However, our employee’s involvement hasn’t stopped with the hand off of the medals.

Rio Tinto launched a global employee recognition program where peers nominated team members, who then went on to be selected from a global pool to attend the London Games. At Kennecott, we had four employees selected, and globally, 80 employees are attending the 2012 Games.

Rio Tinto also produced a moving Mine to Medals campaign that highlighted the employees behind operations in Oyu Tolgoi, Kennecott and other locations around the world. The Mines to Medals campaign has been integrated into the international Olympic medal display and at our facilities globally. The theme was: Different Job; Same Spirit. The campaign captured the dedication and pride of our employees whose work shares the Olympic values every day at work.

Q: It’s interesting that the metal came from two mines “on opposite sides of the globe” as you state in your video. The mines—Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia and Kennecott Utah Copper outside of Salt Lake City—are also one of Rio Tinto’s newest developments contrasted with one of the iconic mining operations in the world. Were those contrasts important to Rio Tinto?  How did the two workforces respond to their selection for this project?

A: Like the Olympic Games, Rio Tinto is truly a global company that shares many of the same ideals of trust, integrity, accountability and respect. Kennecott and Oyu Tolgoi represent opposite sides of the world, but like the Olympics, share a passion for common values and commitments. Providing metal from Oyu Tolgoi builds pride in one of our newest operations while highlighting Kennecott demonstrates a long history of sustainable development work and achievement. 

The medals awarded to athletes are an enduring symbol of the Olympics and the excellence of athletic completion. Since Kennecott produces 99.9 percent pure gold, silver and copper from ore at the Bingham Canyon Mine, it is a natural fit to honor the athletes.

In addition, we are able to demonstrate complete traceability through our chain of custody that ensures this quality. This traceability allows every gram of metal to be traced back to the Bingham Canyon Mine and demonstrates commitment to the sustainable quality materials we produce.

Q: These Olympics are stressing sustainability as one of the signatures of the games.  What are some of the key sustainability objectives/achievements of the two mines providing the metal?

A: At full production, Oyu Tolgoi will be a top ten global copper and gold producer. Oyu Tolgoi will contribute significantly to Mongolia’s economy and total gross domestic product. When fully operational, Oyu Tolgoi will employ a 90 percent Mongolian workforce, which will continue to create economic prosperity for the country.

In addition, Rio Tinto has committed to zero impact on community water sources in Mongolia. Oyu Tolgoi will be one of the most water-conservative mines in the world. No water is discharged from the mine; rather, it is used and reused until it cannot be used any more (for example, lost through evaporation). We currently recycle 100 percent of our treated domestic wastewater.

Kennecott has been demonstrating significant leadership in sustainable development for many years. Below is a list highlighting Kennecott’s efforts to contribute to sustainable development:

  • Kennecott has invested $1 billion to modernize and upgrade its smelter, which is one of the cleanest in the world. Kennecott shuts it down routinely for maintenance and modernization. Kennecott’s smelter captures 99.9 percent of sulfur emissions and recovers heat from steam that is used to co-generate about 60 percent of the facilities power.
  • Kennecott has invested $20 million in combined heat and power systems at our refinery and MAP facility. Each of these units will produce 6.2 megawatts of electrical power, enough to power 6,000 average size homes. They will also reduce emissions by 90 percent compared to separate heat and power systems.
  • Kennecott is investing in many new and more efficient haul trucks over the next two years that will reduce emissions by reducing trips and using less fuel.
  • Kennecott has invested $400 million to reclaim areas negatively affected by historic mining operations.
  • Kennecott will be investing hundreds of millions of dollars to convert three boilers at our onsite power plant to combined-cycle natural gas.
  • Kennecott’s most significant investment is in employees through training and education. Employees have been instrumental in instituting an idling reduction program in haul trucks and medium and light duty vehicles. They have also been recognized for their efforts in the Clear the Air Challenge. These efforts have eliminated the use of more than 2 million gallons of fuel and emissions.

Q: Kennecott Utah Copper was also the exclusive provider of metal for the Salt Lake City games a decade ago. Anything new or different about the London games, e.g., the emphasis on sustainability, are the metals for the Paralympic Games a new addition?

A: The London 2012 Olympics will be Kennecott’s second sponsorship of the Olympic Games. In 2002, Kennecott provided metal for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games medals, which was particularly special to Kennecott as we are located in the Salt Lake Valley and were able to witness firsthand the extraordinary Olympic experience. At the 2012 Games, our London colleagues are able to have this same experience.

Q: Anything you would like to add?

A: We are proud to be the supplier of metal for the medals that will be awarded to elite athletes during the London 2012 Olympic Games. In addition to the Olympic Games, Kennecott has been the supplier of choice for some of the world’s largest, most prestigious and most respected retailers because of our commitment to sustainable development, our corporate values and the delivery of quality products.

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