What are the most sustainable metals?


In today’s world, the push for sustainability touches every aspect of our lives, including the materials we use for construction. Selecting environmentally friendly metals, in particular, is crucial for minimising carbon footprint and contributing to environmental conservation efforts. Let’s find out some of the most sustainable metals.   

What is a sustainable metal?

A sustainable metal is a type of metal that is good for the environment. It is made and used in a way that does not harm nature too much. This metal is usually easy to recycle, so it can be used again and again without causing much waste. It lasts a long time and is strong, so it  does not need to be replaced often. 

Overall, a sustainable metal is part of a system that tries to use resources wisely and take care of the planet. Sustainability in metals encompasses several factors.

  • Recyclability. Sustainable metals are typically highly recyclable, meaning they can be reused multiple times without losing their properties or quality. Recycled metal reduces the need for virgin metal extraction and helps conserve resources.
  • Low environmental impact. Their production processes minimise environmental pollution, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. This includes using renewable energy sources, reducing water usage and carbon emissions, and implementing eco-friendly practices.
  • Responsible sourcing. Sustainable metals are sourced from mines or suppliers that adhere to ethical and responsible mining practices, including minimising habitat destruction.
  • Durability and longevity. They are often chosen for their durability and longevity. It reduces the need for frequent replacement and minimises waste generation in the long term.
  • Circular economy. Sustainable metals are part of a circular economy. Materials are reused and recycled to maximise resource efficiency.


What are the best eco-friendly metals?


Sustainability is increasingly crucial in our material choices, especially when it comes to metals. Understanding the relationship between natural resources and the products derived from raw materials is key. 

Metals, like aluminium and iron, originate from ores found in the Earth’s crust, with bauxite being a primary source for aluminium. Despite the extraction process, metals are elements and remain available in various forms. Metal offers numerous advantages, including durability, strength, and resistance to environmental degradation, unlike materials like wood.

Steel and aluminium are definitely two examples of metals as sustainable materials, 

Steel stands out as exceptionally sustainable. It is the most recycled material globally, demonstrating a long life cycle. 

  • While steel may reach the end of its life in a specific product or building, it can be fully recovered and reused thereafter. 
  • Its magnetic properties also make it easy to retrieve in the recycling process.
  • Stainless steel is commonly used due to its corrosion resistance and versatility.

Aluminium follows suit, as it can be melted and reused without losing quality, saving significant energy compared to producing new aluminium. 

  • It maintains its integrity regardless of its form, and ranks among the top recycled metals.
  • Its strength and reliability remain intact no matter how many times it is melted down for reuse. 
  • Aluminium and its alloys, such as quality aluminium bronze, find applications in marine environments due to their high corrosion resistance.

Copper is considered a sustainable metal, too. 

  • It is 100% recyclable without any loss in quality.
  • Copper is one of the most abundant metals on Earth’s crust.
  • It is then readily available for extraction and use and it does not impact the environment. 
  • Thanks to its durability and resistance to corrosion, it has a long life cycle. 

Steel, aluminium, and copper are common metal materials in the construction sector, which nowadays pays a lot of attention to sustainability. They are mainly used in the construction of facades and claddings, thanks to the expanded metal. 

It is no coincidence that expanded metal is particularly appreciated by architects and facade specialists not only for its aesthetic qualities but also because it is an excellent eco-friendly solution. It helps give buildings a green touch and becomes a main element in urban regeneration projects.

Processes like anodization make some solutions even more durable over time. Structures withstand more, and their quality remains unaffected over the years.


How can metals be sustainable?

Metals are important in the circular economy, a system that tries to reduce waste and use resources wisely. Here is how metals fit into this system.

  • Recycling. Metals can be recycled many times without losing their quality. Instead of throwing them away after one use, they can be melted down and used again in new products.
  • Closed-loop systems. The circular economy encourages systems where materials are reused. Scrap metal is great for this because it can be easily reused. 
  • Saving resources. Recycling metals means we do not have to dig up as much new metal from the ground. This helps protect the environment and preserves natural resources.
  • Saving energy. Recycling metals uses less energy than making new metal from scratch. For example, recycling aluminium saves a lot of energy compared to mining and refining new aluminium.
  • Creating jobs. Recycling metals also creates job opportunities and helps the economy grow. It encourages businesses to develop new strategies and politics.

The material is never lost. Its value is retained forever and makes it available for future generations

Metals such as steel are designed to be durable, thanks to their specific chemical composition. Steel, made from iron and carbon, can withstand harsh conditions like high winds, storms, and sand. It is also less susceptible to damage from wildfires.

Some key aspects involve metal production sustainability. It refers to the environmental, social, and economic considerations about the extraction, processing, and use of metals. 

  • Environmental impact. Sustainable metal production aims to minimise the environmental impact of mining, refining, and processing metals. This includes reducing energy consumption
  • Resource conservation. Sustainable metal production prioritises the efficient use of resources, including raw materials and energy. Recycling and reusing metals play a crucial role in conserving natural resources and reducing the need for new mining activities. 
  • Social responsibility. Sustainable metal production considers the social impacts on communities and workers involved in mining and processing operations. This includes mitigating the negative impacts of mining on local communities, such as displacement and pollution.
  • Innovation and technology. Advances in technology and innovation are driving improvements in metal production sustainability. New processes and techniques are developed to reduce energy consumption, lower emissions, and improve efficiency throughout the production and supply chain.
  • Regulatory compliance. For a proper sustainable metal production it is essential to adhering to environmental regulations and standards. Governments and industry organisations establish rules and guidelines to minimise environmental pollution, protect ecosystems, and ensure worker safety in metal production facilities.


What metals are safe for the environment?


The term “green metals” refers to a group of metals used in clean energy applications and can aid in reaching net-zero emissions goals. These metals comprise:

  • copper;
  • nickel;
  • silver; 
  • zinc; 
  • cobalt; 
  • neodymium; 
  • graphite; 
  • lithium; 
  • manganese;
  • molybdenum.

Among the materials used in construction and in the production of expanded metal for facades and interior design elements, these metals are considered safe for the environment.

  • Aluminium. It is lightweight, abundant, and highly recyclable, making it an environmentally friendly option.
  • Stainless steel. This alloy of iron, carbon, and other metals is durable, corrosion-resistant, and recyclable. 
  • Brass. An alloy of copper and zinc, brass is often used in plumbing fixtures and for expanded metal meshes. 
  • Bronze. Another copper alloy, bronze is durable and often used in sculpture, architectural elements, and machinery.

The sustainability impact of metals is also related to the treatments they undergo. Anodizing plays a key role. 

  • Anodizing puts a protective layer on metals like aluminium, which makes them better at resisting rust, wearing out, and damage from weather. This makes the metal last longer, so we don’t have to replace it as often, which saves resources.
  • Even after the metal has been used, we can still recycle it. The special layer from anodizing can be easily taken off during recycling.
  • Metal that has been anodized is easier to keep clean compared to metal that hasn’t. It doesn’t get stained or scratched as easily, so we do not need to clean it as often. This means we use fewer cleaning products and less water.
  • The process of anodizing itself does not use a lot of energy, especially when we compare it to other ways of treating metal surfaces. Modern places that do anodizing use high-tech methods to use less energy and make less waste.
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