ResponsibleSteel CEO pleased with industry drive toward environmental goals

ResponsibleSteel chief executive officer Annie Heaton wrapped up a day-long Forum III conference and marveled at how far the steel industry has come in a five-year span

Sustainability and decarbonization goals have come to the forefront of every major steelmaker’s objectives, whereas not too long ago, the thought would have been scoffed at, Heaton said during a reception at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

“In the short span of five years, we’ve created a very complex standard that overwhelms some people with its scope,” Heaton said of ResponsibleSteel’s steel plant certification system, ensuring facilities are progressing toward key environmental goals. “We wrap all of those goals up in one standard.”

The latest success story for Heaton and her team came with an announcement on Monday October 31 that two POSCO steel plants and one Tata Steel plant have become the latest to achieve ResponsibleSteel certification, upholding goals to achieve sustainable development and decarbonization.

The sites receiving ResponsibleSteel certification were POSCO’s Pohang and Gwangyang Steelworks in South Korea and Tata Steel’s Jamshedpur site in India.

At the start of the Forum III meeting, Heaton said ResponsibleSteel had officially certified plants producing roughly 52 million tonnes of steel per year. After Monday’s announcement, that total had moved up to 103 million tonnes.

“ResponsibleSteel now has around 13% of the world’s steel industry by volume in its membership, with certified sites on five continents covering the production of over 100 million tonnes of steel,” she said.

At a time when global decarbonization goals are garnering more headlines and bringing increased scrutiny from lending institutions, calls for a consistent standard to verify progress toward meeting those goals have increased from steel producers, steel consumers and logistics companies, Forum III participants said on Monday.

With the ResponsibleSteel standard “designed to drive forward positive actions for people, planet and the steel industry,” Heaton is seeing progress on what’s generally regarded as a steep climb to decarbonization.

“For the steel companies themselves, this has required enormous vision, investment and, above all, commitment from a community of like-minded people working together to find solutions to some of the most pressing issues of the day — climate change, air pollution, diversity and labor rights, to name just a few,” she said. “There will be further to go, but today the producers of over 100 million tonnes of steel can proudly say they have achieved ResponsibleSteel site certification and are well on their way.”

Hag-dong Kim, CEO of POSCO, added in a news release that certifying “the world’s two largest mills,” was a major step toward meeting his company’s climate goals.

Today, as we prepare for the post-pandemic era, it is more important than ever for the steel industry to fulfill its social responsibility and to practice sustainable manufacturing

“Today, as we prepare for the post-pandemic era, it is more important than ever for the steel industry to fulfill its social responsibility and to practice sustainable manufacturing,” he said in the release. “To remain viable and competitive, the steel industry must identify sustainable solutions to diverse [environmental, social and governance] challenges, such as by achieving carbon neutrality and building a safe workplace.”

For Tata Steel, based in one of the fastest growing economies with rapidly increasing steel demand, it is a step in the right direction, with India more challenged than most in securing cleanly produced natural gas.

“This is a historic moment for Tata Steel and an important step in our sustainability journey,” T V Narendran, CEO of Tata Steel, said in the release. “Globally, the steel industry is at a critical juncture and the larger impact of how we produce and consume steel needs to be addressed urgently.”

US Steel garners ISO certification

US Steel announced in a separate release that it had achieved International Organization for Standardization 45001 certification for its Great Lakes Works in River Rouge and Ecorse, Michigan, and its US Steel Košice facilities in Košice, Slovakia, ahead of schedule.

CEO David Burritt made the announcement during remarks at the Forum III event.

US Steel committed to achieving the certification at all of its facilities by 2024 as part of the health and safety goals outlined in its 2021 Sustainability Report. The certification of the facilities in Michigan and Slovakia is the company’s first under the standard.

“We are pleased to reach this safety and sustainability milestone more than a full year ahead of our 2024 target,” Burritt said in the release. “The phrase ‘safety first’ originated in our steel mills in 1908... and with the enhanced structure and data that ISO 45001 brings to our existing, industry-leading best practices, we will be better able to deliver on our commitment to 360° safety.”

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