Advances in technology have led to increasing demand for more sophisticated electronic products, which, in turn, induces demand for raw materials essential for product performance. A class of such materials is mined in places in the world that are politically unstable – they are called Conflict Minerals (CMs) because profits from their mining and trade support human rights violations in their places of origin. They include Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten, and Gold (3TG). To reduce global reliance on 3TG, government policies from local and international communities are the only works in place, but what is still unclear is their efficacy towards achieving their intended goals - while some of the policies have been impactful towards restricting CM use, the social risks tied to their supply persists. Therefore, this thesis fills this gap in two ways; firstly, by assessing key CM policies relevant to indicators to determine their efficacy towards limiting CM global demand and secondly, investigate the comparative potential for three sustainability strategies – recycling, alternative supply chains, and material substitution – which have been proposed to alleviate the risk of CM use. Maturity Index (MI) tool, an assessment scale that indicates the degree of progress made by an activity, was used to determine the efficacy of key CM policies, this method is termed policy analysis. Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP), a multi-criteria decision-making tool, was applied to determine the degree to which each sustainability strategy can reduce global demand on CMs, this method is termed alternatives analysis. Results from the policy analysis indicate that implementing policies only is inadequate to mitigate the social risks tied to CM global use. Using tungsten as a case study, the results of our alternatives analysis show that recycling has the highest potential for reduction in tungsten global use, followed by material substitution and thirdly, alternative supply chains. This work aims to inform better decisions pertinent to creating more effective CM policies and sustainable alternatives for reducing global reliance on CMs. Further, our work proactively addresses similar social risks that may be associated with cobalt, a mineral identified to possess similar qualities as a CM but, is not classified as one by law. The same methods were applied in the cobalt case study and the results of our alternatives analysis show that material substitution has the highest potential for reduction in global cobalt use, followed by recycling and thirdly, alternative supply chains. Broadly, findings from this thesis can inform key decisions needed to effectively address the social risks tied to expanding mineral demand now and in the future.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Household electronics industry--Moral and ethical aspects; Household electronics industry--Environmental aspects; Household electronics--Materials; Mineral industries--Moral and ethical aspects

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Sustainable Engineering (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Industrial and Systems Engineering (KGCOE)


Callie Babbitt

Advisor/Committee Member

Brian Thorn

Advisor/Committee Member

Jennifer Schneider


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes