The North American steel industry is committed to building a sustainable future. The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) and its member companies share a deep dedication to responsible stewardship of our natural resources so that future generations can enjoy them just as we cherish them today. We have long supported the value of recycling, creating in 1988, the Steel Can Recycling Institute (today known as the Steel Recycling Institute–SRI) to promote and sustain steel can recycling. In 1993 SRI’s (a business unit of AISI) mission was expanded beyond steel can recycling, to promote and sustain the recycling of all steel products, including automobiles, appliances, cans, construction materials and other steel products. The SRI educates the solid waste industry, government, business and ultimately the consumer about the benefits of steel’s infinite recycling cycle.

Over the past decade, AISI’s Board of Directors has identified environmental stewardship and commitment to sustainability as part of our strategic plan and our vision for the future. We have in the past, and continue to examine strategies to advance that vision.

Currently, we see the commitment to improving our environmental performance being advanced through:

  • Investments in new and innovative technologies;
  • Renewal of our long-time commitment to recycling;
  • Seeking to refine industry performance metrics
  • Collaboration, both across the industry and with other sectors, to extend our environmental progress even further.

Innovation has led to the introduction of a wide variety of new steels. In fact, 50 percent of the steels used to make automobiles today did not exist just 10 short years ago. The efficiencies gained from using lighter-weight yet higher-strength steels is impressive, which, when taken in the context of life cycle impact assessment, have the potential of helping achieve significant progress in emissions reductions. If currently available Advanced High Strength Steels were applied throughout the present U.S. automotive fleet, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from automobiles would be reduced by approximately 12 percent – an amount greater than the emissions generated by the entire American steel industry today.

The industry has committed significant resources to this effort. Since 1975, over $60 billion has been spent on new technologies to improve energy efficiency and productivity. That investment has paid off. The industry has reduced energy use per ton of steel shipped by more than 40 percent over the past 25 years and by 27 percent since the Kyoto baseline year of 1990. As a matter of fact the United States steel industry is the only significant industry in the U. S. that has reduced its total energy consumption while increasing its production in 2005 versus Kyoto baseline year of 1990.

Because of our long-term focus on recycling, the North American steel industry has seen a continued steady rise in the recycling rate for steel. For example, when it comes to cans, the steel can has outperformed the aluminum can for the past several years by having the highest recycling rate. The overall recycling rate of steel reached an all-time high based on the most recent data compiled through 2005, with an overall recycling rate of 75 percent. Surprisingly, the industry is still working to make the public aware that steel is the most recycling material on the planet – more than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined.

AISI has been actively engaged with a number of organizations outside our industry to achieve environmental progress. One major focus of AISI’s work has been the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate (APP). Cooperating with the U.S. Departments of Commerce, State, Energy and the EPA, AISI has played a leadership role in this important initiative. Founding partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States have agreed to work together and with private-sector partners to meet goals for energy security, national air pollution reduction and climate change in ways that promote sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.

Another collaborative effort that produced significant environmental progress is the National Mercury Switch Removal Program, in which AISI played a central role.   AISI efforts helped to successfully complete an agreement with all stakeholders to implement a national program to remove mercury switches from vehicles prior to dismantling. Our industry contributed $2 million over three years to help fund – along with $2 million from the automotive industry – the creation of the Implementation Fund to encourage removal of the switches. The program is being rolled out in all 50 states and will help ensure mercury air emissions compliance at both the electric arc and basic oxygen steelmaking operations.

Sustainable Development is generally defined as follows: “meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.” As a result of adopting this definition the steel industry has developed two key indicators to track our progress towards attainment. First, is our continued growth in the overall recycling rate, which not only saves precious raw materials but also significant amounts of energy for future generations to use. Secondly, is to continue to work with our customers to find ways to improve their use of steel whether it be a can, auto, or appliance manufacturer or an architect designing the next “Green Building.”

As you can see, through innovation, support for recycling, emphasis on metrics and collaborative strategies, the North American steel industry has made important headway on environmental initiatives. But this success cannot lead to complacency.

We need to press forward because the landscape around us is changing. Commitment to environmental stewardship, or “being green,” should not be construed as simply an attractive moniker or as a marketing gimmick. Our industry needs to be one of the players helping to shape the environmental agenda rather than watching from the sidelines.   More and more, we are seeing industry sectors making green attributes part of their criteria and standards of operation. A recent study, found that 85 percent of U.S. consumer business companies have active sustainability initiatives already in place. In the construction sector, we see the impact that the U.S. Green Building Council is having with its green building rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED).

We see in the automotive, appliance and container markets similar emphasis, with increasing emphasis on life cycle impact assessment, given the federal government’s focus on CAFE standards, and developments such as Wal-Mart’s sustainability scorecard, a green rating system by which the world’s largest retailer has begun evaluating all packaged goods they sell and materials they utilize in all aspect of their business operations.   We can expect the awareness of more and more consumer-oriented companies to rise in sophistication regarding the impact of their products on the environment and a corresponding increase in their green marketing strategies.

The steel industry is poised, through the work of AISI, to further advance efforts to reduce its environmental footprint through research projects at universities around the country aimed at reducing, and eventually eliminating, CO2 emissions from the steel making process.

An example is a current project with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to produce iron by molten oxide electrolysis (MOE), which would generate no CO2 gases. This represents a significant first step towards carbon-free ironmaking by a technology that completely avoids emission of greenhouse gases from the smelter

In addition to the MIT project, AISI has three other long-range projects that will have a positive impact on the environment. These projects include: Ironmaking by Hydrogen Flash Smelting at the University of Utah; Geological Sequestration of CO2 at the University of Missouri-Rolla; and Integrating Steel Production with Mineral Sequestration at Columbia University.

I urge steel companies who may not yet be part of this vision for a sustainable future to join us. The challenge is great and the rewards will be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren as they carry on responsible environmental stewardship of our planet.