How Saudi Arabia’s Ma’aden is mining for sustainability excellence

Global Insights
09 January 2022 Riyadh, KSA
  • Chief executive Robert Wilt welcomes the push for progress in a sector not always associated with sustainability leadership. 
Most corporate horizons lay out targeted capabilities and goals in an ambitious roadmap. But for the Saudi Arabian Mining Company, or Ma’aden, long- and short-term strategic plans are studded with superlatives – and even what might be construed as contradictions. As CEO Robert Wilt explains, the mining champion is on track to be a bellwether for the global industry, achieving landmark changes in as little as 18 years.
“By 2040, we want to grow our EBIT by a power of 10,” Wilt says. “And we’ve got several pillars to get there.”
One is leadership in environmental, social and governance, or ESG criteria. “That might sound a little odd to some,” Wilt admits, given a persistent image of mining as invasive. 
“How can an extractive industry want to be an ESG leader? It’s pretty simple,” he explains. “We set benchmarks… A key milestone of our ESG roadmap is carbon neutrality by 2050, mapped out in clear action plans – conversion of the fleet, fuel switching, energy efficiency, recycling, waste management.” 
Going forward, innovation will be central to Ma’aden, which is majority-owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF). “Some step changes will be required,” Wilt says, citing partnerships with other Saudi entities.
Ma’aden is a major producer of phosphate fertilizers, an essential material within the agricultural industry. Indeed, mining touches virtually all aspects of life – and is central to future industries as well. Ma’aden has the world’s lowest-cost integrated aluminum value chain, enabling downstream industry to produce beverage cans, packaging foils, automotive parts and construction materials, in addition to other uses. Wilt adds, “That is obviously a metal required for lightweight energy efficiency as the world decarbonizes.”
Which brings him back to ensuring Ma’aden is a national role model for ESG. 
“We’re going to unearth the Kingdom’s potential and find the minerals and metals required to decarbonize the world. Whether it’s access to mining licenses, access to talent and capital, our stakeholders demand a sustainable business model that promotes ESG values.” 
And Ma’aden is leading the way. The company is one of five inaugural partners in the Middle East and North Africa’s Voluntary Carbon Market for trading carbon credits, which is being launched by PIF and the Saudi Exchange. 
Wilt acknowledges that modeling ESG means Ma’aden must “think differently about how we do everything.” A case in point is how Ma’aden revised its original goal of 60% carbon neutrality by mid-century to 100%. “It would be disingenuous of the Kingdom for its mining company to have a slower pace than the rest of the portfolio. So we’re being pushed – and it’s great,” says Wilt. 
“I believe that an extractive industry can actually elevate humanity. When you think about what we’re going to find, how we’re going to develop capabilities in emerging markets, build out infrastructure, bring society along with us – it’s a great opportunity.
“I think one of the things that young people especially aspire to, is to be part of something special and when we combine that with our sustainability goals, it really captivates people.”