Sustainable Development

A greener, healthier and more sustainable future relies on the use of copper

When it comes to sustainable development, the production of copper is an important part of the story, but  it represents only one chapter in a much larger book.

The additional chapters show unequivocally how copper is making a positive impact on sustainable development. Through the programmes of the European Copper Institute and the Copper Alliance, the copper industry is making a positive impact on areas of critical societal concern, such as energy efficiency and security, climate change mitigation, public health, food supply, green building and more.

In particular, the Copper Alliance undertakes significant work to advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provide a 15-year framework for addressing humanity’s most critical issues. While our initiatives on a global level have some alignment with all 17 of the SDGs, three of the SDGs particularly closely match our focus:

UN Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Products containing copper tend to operate more efficiently because copper is the best non-precious conductor of heat and electricity. Renewable sources already provide nearly one-quarter of the world’s power and significantly more in a number of EU member states. Copper use helps reduce CO2 emissions and lower the amount of energy needed to produce electricity.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Copper is already an essential ingredient in our most innovative technologies—such as smart energy tech, aquaculture and electric cars—and its role in electromobility, energy efficiency and renewable energy is growing. McKinsey has estimated a 43% potential increase in copper demand by 2035 versus today’s demand of 22 million tonnes.

SDG 13: Climate Action

On average, less than five tonnes of CO2 are emitted to produce one tonne of copper. However, because of copper’s inherent high efficiency in conductive applications, between 100 and 7,500 tons of CO2 emissions can be reduced—a mitigation factor of up to 1,500 to one. By 2030, copper could reduce the world’s carbon footprint by 16%.

Beyond the Sustainable Development Goals, the copper industry in Europe is also making an important contribution to the broader economic, social and environmental sustainability of the EU.

Copper and Economic Sustainable Development

Structural (buildings and infrastructure) and functional (electrical and thermal conductors) products made from copper, copper alloys and copper scrap metal are at the heart of the EU economy. European companies – with world class technologies in sectors such as automotive, machinery building, power infrastructure, construction, metal extraction, engineering and many more – generate billions of Euros through both regional and export markets.

Copper and Social Sustainable Development

While the copper industry itself is relatively small in terms of employment (+/- 50,000 people across Europe), it employs many skills in a variety of job types. Far more importantly, the downstream copper value chain—which covers everything from nano-particles to production of gigantic civil constructions to space exploration—supports, amongst others, researchers, scientists, teachers, engineers, medics, technologists, metal workers, recyclers and construction labourers. These people work in world class academic institutions, government departments, global companies and SMEs. Find out more with copper’s voluntary risk assessment.

Copper and Environmental Sustainable Development

The European copper industry spends millions of Euros every year on improving its own environmental footprint, as well as enabling downstream companies to improve the environmental footprint of their products. Copper products form part of environmental infrastructure projects, sensors, instrumentation and measurement projects, copper metals recycling, cleaning, treatment and waste management projects.

Research and innovation is supporting resource efficiency, “getting more from less”. Examples include light-weighting, downsizing, yield improvement and the higher productivity of systems and appliances, whether a medical device, mobile phone, air-conditioner, factory, supermarket, railway system or construction vehicle.

Find out more about copper and the environment.

The Copper AllianceTM believes that sustainable development offers a balanced economic model that is respectful of people and the planet.

The European Copper Institute strives to represent an industry and its products that are valued and appreciated for their contributions towards creating a more sustainable society. Read more on the global website.

Copper has a superior electrical and thermal conductivity, is highly durable, and can be 100% recycled without any loss in performance. There are ten good reasons why copper should be a material of choice when it comes to building a more sustainable energy system. Read about them in the Applications section, including how they apply in specific applications.