Steel Manufacturing at an Environmental, Social, and Governance Gold Standard
Big River Steel, founded in 2014, prides itself on a visionary approach to the production of steel: or as the company puts it, it’s “a technology company that happens to make steel.” At its facility in Osceola, Arkansas—among the newest and most productive steel mills on the planet—the U.S. Steel subsidiary prioritizes achieving a level of sustainability well beyond the industry standard. These goals align with growing expectations among Big River Steel’s customers that its products should meet rigorous environmental and ethical standards that have been independently verified.
The steel industry has not been historically known for its environmentally conscious outlook, but Big River Steel sought to change that perception and affirm its commitment to sustainability by seeking ResponsibleSteel™ site certification. Based on 12 principles and more than 370 elements, this certification requires stringent compliance with environmental, social and governance ideals. ResponsibleSteel assesses wide-ranging elements including material sourcing, decarbonization strategy, noise and vibration reduction, water stewardship, air emissions reduction, biodiversity monitoring, human and labor rights, and engagement with stakeholders and local communities.
To meet this standard, Big River Steel teamed with CDM Smith’s sustainability team to address the rigorous requirements of ResponsibleSteel. Beginning with gathering comprehensive materials, onsite visits and worker and stakeholder interviews, CDM Smith brought in energy, water, environmental and global compliance experts: tapping into the talents of a multi-disciplinary sustainability team that has been studying the developments and best practices in sustainability for over a decade. Ultimately, the project involved 20 different CDM Smith experts across 10 technical disciplines, led by our sustainability practitioners.
By bringing all these skills together, we were able to help Big River Steel prove its sustainability credentials to all of its customers and employees, and to do that in record time.
While the process was expected to take 12-18 months, CDM Smith was able to help Big River Steel achieve site certification in only 8 months. The secret to the team’s success, according to sustainability discipline leader Melissa Harclerode, was CDM Smith’s ability to tap a wide array of expertise in-house.
“We’re able to assess every aspect of environmental, social and governance, or ESG, by reaching out to cross-disciplinary experts within our sustainability team. Whether it’s decarbonization, water conservation, or human rights considerations, these are issues we tackle every day at CDM Smith. And we go beyond the engineering, design and operational aspects—we help companies like Big River Steel evaluate how ESG standards can be managed that affect their stakeholders and their supply chains. By bringing all these skills together, we were able to help Big River Steel prove its sustainability credentials to all of its customers and employees, and to do that in record time.”
For Big River Steel and its parent company, achieving ResponsibleSteel site certification was a landmark achievement. “We are thrilled to be the first steel company in North America to achieve ResponsibleSteel certification for our Big River Steel site,” U. S. Steel President & CEO David B. Burritt said in a statement. “This marks an important milestone on our journey to build a more sustainable future for our customers, company, colleagues, communities, and the planet.”
By proving concrete evidence of Big River Steel’s sustainability commitment, this certification leaves a legacy of responsible sourcing and product manufacturing with the stakeholders’ best interests at the forefront. Going forward, the company will maintain its site certification with annual surveillance audits along with detailed renewals every three years.