The Case of Rare Earth Elements: Stewards
The goal of the Stewardship Council is to create a Sustainability Seal for the mining, production, and use of rare earth elements. Experts in various fields have been invited to weigh in on what this seal should include. You have released a draft of the Guiding Values, and now you will hear feedback from stakeholders on all sides. You will listen to their arguments and select the Guiding Values that are most practical and effective.
Carefully read the Rare Earth Sustainability Seal Guiding Values, which you have released for public comment, so you can identify the changes proposed by each group and address their concerns and suggestions. Then review the following questions, which you will ask each group during the Summit before developing questions of your own:
- The mining and production of rare earth elements can result in intense and long-lasting water and soil pollution, yet these elements are in high demand for countless modern technologies. Are there truly sustainable methods for mining and using rare earth elements? How can cleaner but more costly forms of production compete with cheaper mining operations and illegal smuggling? Who in the production cycle of rare earths should bear the burden of evaluating and minimizing environmental impact?
- Great strides have been made in the effort to efficiently recycle rare earth elements, but the science behind these technologies is still being tested and existing methods are not widely implemented. Is it possible to prioritize recycling and reuse in the demand for rare earths? What is the most effective way to create incentives for recycling and reuse to reduce new production?
- The goal of this Summit is to create a Sustainability Seal for the mining, production, and use of rare earth elements. What are the critical factors that must be addressed when discussing the sustainability of rare earths? What are the biggest obstacles to making rare earth elements a sustainable resource? What new problems might result from the creation of this seal?
- What historical examples and evidence provide useful lessons about the successes or failures of addressing the impact and implications of our use of rare earth elements?
- Do the problems caused by our use of rare earth elements outweigh the benefits that they provide?
President of a Market-Oriented Environmental Nongovernmental Organization
You are an environmental advocate who leads a group that uses corporate partnerships and the pursuit of profit to solve serious environmental problems.
Executive Director of a Wildlife-Focused Environmental Advocacy Organization
You are an environmental advocate who leads an organization with long experience in establishing sustainability seals.
You are a geography professor who has researched the global rare earth industry through fieldwork in China and Brazil.
You are an academic chemist interested in “green chemistry” who develops new approaches to producing the rare earth elements.
You are an expert in measuring the environmental impacts of materials using the technique of life-cycle analysis.
You are a retired metallurgist who has led a national lab and advised a range of stakeholders about rare earth issues.
What Is a Steward?
In The Case of Rare Earth Elements, the Stewards are representatives elected to a Stewardship Council responsible for determining a set of guiding values for a new Sustainability Seal addressing the issues surrounding the mining, production, and consumption of rare earth elements. As a Steward you must ensure that the final set of guiding values addresses the problem in a practical, manageable way.
In order to consider as many opinions as possible, the Stewardship Council has convened a Summit of rare earth element experts. During the Summit you will ask questions and gather information to determine what will ensure the best set of guiding values. Without a clear opinion about what is best, you are ready to be persuaded by the experts.
It is important that as one of the decision makers, you gather as much information as possible throughout the game so you can make well-reasoned judgments and pick the best regulation proposal.
The Role of the Steward
When you received your role assignment, you were also assigned an interest group. You must become an expert on this interest group. Review the group’s goals and recommendations, read about its positions, and attend its meetings strictly as an observer. Before the Summit you will meet with the other Stewards to share what you have learned and prepare the questions you will ask.
- Write two questions you want to ask your assigned interest group during the Summit
- Write a one-page analysis of your assigned group’s main arguments
Your primary goal during the Summit is to moderate a discussion among the interest groups and to learn as much as possible about all of the groups and their arguments. Begin with the questions in the Student Introduction, asking groups to clarify their responses as necessary. Then proceed to the questions written by you and the other Stewards. Although these questions are directed to specific interest groups, encourage the other groups to respond as well.
You will observe the working groups as they prepare their proposals. Listen closely to their ideas, and prepare questions for the Debate but do not participate in their discussion.
In this final section of the game each group will present its proposal for the Sustainability Seal guiding values, and you will ask questions about each proposed regulation. When the Debate concludes, you will vote on which proposal to accept for the final set of guiding values. You will also determine which of the four interest groups made the strongest contributions to the winning Sustainability Seal by ranking them in order. Points will be awarded for the winning proposal and to each interest group based on their ranking.
Assigned Readings & Other Sources
- American Chemical Society, Green Chemistry Institute. “12 Principles of Green Chemistry.” acs.org.
- Bailey, Gwendolyn, Nabeel Mancheri, and Karel Van Acker. “Sustainability of Permanent Rare Earth Magnet Motors in (H)EV Industry.” Journal of Sustainable Metallurgy, March 2017. (Read the introduction and conclusion only.)
- Chemistry and Engineering News Online. “Rare Earth Elements—Eric Schelter.” July 2, 2011. (Video, 1:30 min.)
- Conniff, Richard. “Greenwashed Timber: How Sustainable Forest Certification Has Failed.” Yale Environment 360, February 20, 2018.
- Critical Materials Institute, Ames Laboratory. “About the Critical Materials Institute.” ameslab.gov.
- Environmental Defense Fund. “Getting Toxics out of Household Products.” edf.org.
- Kim, Meeri. “Exposing a Trail of Devastation.” Global Citizen Magazine, Sarah Lawrence College, Fall 2018.
- King, Alex. “The ‘Rare Earth Crisis’ and Science in the Public Eye.” Oral history interview excerpt, Paul Burnett, interviewer. Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, June 6, 2016. (Video, 2:30 min.)
- Klinger, Julie. “Rare Earths: Lessons for Latin America.” Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Fall 2013.
- Klinger, Julie Michelle, and Roger Turner. “R&D, Not Greenland, Can Solve Our Rare Earth Problem.” Hill, September 18, 2019.
- Levy, Dawn. “From Trash to Treasure: Electronic Waste Is Mined for Rare Earth Elements.” STEM Magazine, January 2020, pp. 12–17.
- Meyer, Michal. “Industrial Vitamins.” Distillations, June 2, 2016.
- Mo, Karen, and Huma Khan. “The Impact of Forest Stewardship Council Certification.” Research review, World Wildlife Fund, Global Forest and Trade Network, October 20, 2014.
- Sanders, Samantha, dir. “A History of the Environmental Movement.” Commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund. Green River Films and Kartemquin Films, prod., 2017. (Video, 4:30 min.)
- Sequeira, Robbie. “Congressmen Tour Ames Lab, Tout Innovation in Rare Earth Minerals.” Ames Tribune, February 24, 2020.
- SIM2 KU Leuven. “Designing and Recycling Electric Motors.” July 17, 2017. (Video, 2:42 min.)
- SIM2 KU Leuven. “First Recycled Electric Motor.” January 22, 2019. (Video, 2:55 min.)
- Supply Chain Solutions Center, Environmental Defense Fund. “Five Pillars of Leadership: Best Practices for Safer Products.” edf.org.
- Tunnicliffe, Andrew. “Will the New Rare Earth Industry Association Reshape the Industry?” Mining Technology, October 24, 2019.
- University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences. “Eric Schelter—Scarcity and Sustainability: The Future of Rare, Precious, and Critical Metals.” September 28, 2018. (Video, 1:18 min.)
- World Wildlife Fund. “How We Work.” wwf.panda.org.