Interdependencies of lithium mining and communities sustainability in Salar de Atacama, Chile

Wenjuan Liu, Datu B. Agusdinata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Demand for clean technologies has increased global lithium (Li) production. However, the potential impacts of lithium extraction, especially on frontline communities, have not been studied holistically. This research assesses the community sustainability in Salar de Atacama, Chile. We developed a coupled natural-social systems framework to analyze the interdependencies of the lithium extraction and its impacts. Using data from the Chilean census, company sustainability reports, remote sensing, and media archives, we investigate the temporal dynamics of water availability, labor influx, employment, social activism, and corporate social responsibility. Our study finds that between 2002 and 2017, the total water storage declined at a rate of 1.16 mm/year. Compared to other uses, water consumption from Li-mining was higher by two orders of magnitude. Mining played a crucial role in creating greater migration impacts, as indicated in a high migration effectiveness index of 85% and 90%, respectively. Labor influx increased 2.3 times, whereas the role of local labor in mining decreased from 52% to 18%. Local social activism increased both in intensity and scale. Our interdependency framework and analyses show that Li-mining and local communities are closely linked at both local and regional scale through the sharing of water resources, economic opportunities, and resource governance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number120838
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Coupled natural and social system
  • Labor migration
  • Lithium mining
  • Social activism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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