Bartolomeo, speaking in an interview at the Reuters Impact conference, said the disasters - which killed nearly 300 people and caused huge environmental damage in Brazil - were a wake up call that forced the company to think differently.
"I think everybody woke up. I think the incidents, the tragedies, unfortunately pushed us to open up our minds. It's a driving force behind everything we do here at Vale and it is a driving force for the industry as well," he said.
Beyond improving safety, it helped Vale reconsider its wider role too, according to Bartolomeo.
"We need to give back to society, we are a mining company, we extract natural resources, we are only going to be accepted if we share value with society," he said.
Vale plans to invest between $4 billion and $6 billion to reduce emissions by 2030, aiming to cut its direct and indirect carbon emissions by 33%. It plans to hit zero net emissions by 2050.
Bartolomeo said his own remuneration package now sets targets for safety and sustainability, with 20% of his long-term compensation associated with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals. Vale is also developing a new iron ore pellet that aims to reduce the emissions of steelmaking clients. The so-called green briquette, the result of nearly 10 years of research and development, will be produced in 2023. It is made up of iron ore and a technological binder solution which includes sand from the treatment of mining tailings in its composition, and is capable of resisting high blast furnace temperatures without disintegrating. "This is a new pellet, but a new pellet with 80% less carbon footprint," Bartolomeo said. The estimate is that, in the long term, the company will have the capacity to produce over 50 million tons per year of green briquettes, generating value as well as environmental gains.
"It's a new business for Vale", he said. "This is not greenwashing."
(Reporting by Marta Nogueira, writing by Stephen Eisenhammer, editing by Richard Pullin)
By Marta Nogueira