Increased production rates of iron and steel promote economic wealth, however they impose challenges to sustainable development due to emissions associated with iron and steelmaking and increasing use of resources. This work assesses the indicators and parameters that are important to defining the role of iron and steelmaking operations in sustainable development and reviews the major environmental challenges that need to be addressed by science and industry. Three major ironmaking technologies, the blast furnace, electric arc furnace and direct reduced iron (Midrex) are comparatively assessed in this work. The sustainability indicators used for assessment consist of economic parameters, greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater consumption, land use requirements and air pollution. These parameters are then compared to performance indicators from two other fundamental industries, those of energy generation and food production. From the iron and steelmaking technologies considered in this work, electric arc furnace steelmaking was found to have the best sustainability performance, closely followed by Midrex. The blast furnace was the lowest ranked iron and steelmaking technology, although its sustainability performance was found to be significantly above that of coal fired power stations.