How gold miners learn to be responsible
More than five years ago, the largest gold mining companies operating in Russia embarked on the path of sustainable development – they began to actively care about the quality of life of people in the regions where they operate, and in parallel – to fight climate change. Why do they need it and what exactly do they do, representatives of Polyus, Polymetal and Canadian Kinross told Plus-one.ru.
The leading players in the Russian gold mining industry had to seriously engage in sustainable development because of the changed time, with new trends. The request for a qualitatively different level of work with the environment was formed by foreign investors. This was also influenced by the new environmental demands of the generations of “millennials” and “zoomers”. Today, the leaders of the Russian gold mining industry in terms of sustainable development are the companies Polyus, Polymetal and the Canadian Kinross. This is evidenced by their positions in key ESG ratings (Environmental, Social and Governance, or environmental, social and management factors): Sustainalytics, Rating of openness of mining and metallurgical companies in Russia in the field of environmental responsibility of WWF and the UN, MSCI ESG Rating, The Sustainability Year Book other. They show how the process of making key business decisions in the company is focused on sustainable development in these areas, according to one agency or another.
Gold mining company Polyus has been working on compliance with the principles of the SDGs for several years. The sustainability management system was developed in 2015-2016 when the company decided to join the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM). “Working on the Council helped us a lot. ICMM is a professional platform for the exchange of experience between mining companies and for the development of norms and standards in the field of sustainable development that set the direction and pace of development of the entire industry,” says Daria Grigoryeva, Head of Sustainable Development at Polyus.
Upon joining the organization, independent experts evaluate how the company’s activities comply with the requirements of sustainable development. The level of labor protection of personnel, the impact on the environment, and the support of local communities are analyzed.
The ICMM supervisory body can draw up a plan of necessary actions, by completing which the candidate for membership can achieve full membership in the ICMM.
Daria Grigoryeva notes that improving labor protection is not a quick process: “This is a complex systematic work. It is necessary to change the perception of people so that they consciously assess the risks before starting any work, so that this happens automatically. We can confidently say that industrial injuries are declining. The Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) per 200,000 work hours has almost halved since 2013 and is now at 0.08. This gives confidence that efforts are not in vain.
Polyus is working to reduce its carbon footprint. In 2018, the company reduced specific greenhouse gas emissions by 22% compared to the previous year, and in 2019 by 16% compared to 2018. This was achieved by moving away from the use of coal-fired energy and switching to renewable energy sources. Polyus is now using a program to analyze climate change scenarios, which will allow assessing the impact of climate risks on the company’s operations.
Water use at Polyus is minimal: 94% of water circulation is a closed cycle. “Technology and natural processes like evaporation do not yet allow increasing the volume of water circulation,” explains Daria.
In addition, Polyus is undergoing a certification audit for compliance with the International Cyanide Management Code: “It is not difficult for us, since the current Russian legislation strictly regulates this area, which allows us to easily pass certification.”
Gold mining company Polymetal also follows the principles of sustainable development, studying its impact on society and nature. In 2016, she conducted a survey among stakeholders – employees, local communities, indigenous peoples, investors, lenders – to understand which ESG factors she would prioritize.
The first goal of a gold miner, in addition to making a profit, is to improve the quality of life of people: creating jobs, paying taxes, social partnership with the local population. “We are constantly working to improve infrastructure in the regions where we operate, repairing kindergartens, sports grounds, opening movie theaters,” says Daria Goncharova, Director of Sustainable Development at Polymetal.
The second goal is to ensure labor rights, safe working conditions, and the right to use an environmentally friendly environment. “We, as a company that has an impact on the environment, must not only compensate for the damage, but also prevent it,” notes Daria Goncharova.
Another area of work is the fight against climate change. Polymetal is replacing diesel power plants with solar panels and wind turbines, and is using battery-powered mining equipment. “Since 2016, we have been using electric vehicles for underground mining. This reduces not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also ventilation costs. In addition, in the absence of emissions, the rock mass does not thaw, which means that the safety of employees is increased,” says Daria Goncharova. Polymetal, together with German partners from SMT Scharf AG, is also involved in the creation of electric underground mining equipment: “We are testing this equipment in the fields – and we hope that we can create a transport that will be used by the entire industry.”
Polymetal has been certified for compliance with the principles of the International Cyanide Management Code. “For this, it was necessary to certify the cyanide production facility, the carrier and our own production. And here we were the first in Russia to certify railroad deliveries,” says Daria Goncharova.
Finally, the company’s plans include not only the reclamation of depleted deposits, but also the restoration of ecosystems affected by its activities. “We recently launched the Million for Green Ideas competition. We give employees in the regions the opportunity to restore the ecosystem and landscape of lands: transfer them to agribusiness, build a recreation park, open a museum or erect a monument. Due to the remoteness, these places are unlikely to be very popular with tourists, but we would really like to bring them to the best possible form,” says Goncharova.
Kinross is committed to meeting international sustainability standards. “We believe that it is necessary for the gold mining industry to introduce a set of strict regulatory requirements,” the company’s press service said. Kinross is a member of the World Gold Council Working Committee for Responsible Gold Mining. The Committee was tasked with developing the Responsible Gold Mining Principles (RGMP) – 10 fundamental principles divided into commitments, standards and expected results. The principles approved in 2019 are the result of the work of many industry enterprises, advisory groups, which included investors, representatives of states, civil society and many others. Leading international standards for responsible gold mining were also taken into account.
In assessing its performance, Kinross is guided by ESG standards, including the UN SDGs, the World Gold Council Principles for Responsible Gold Mining, and the recommendations of the Climate Financial Disclosure Working Group. “We are committed to protecting the environment and reducing the risks associated with production. We believe that Kinross today is a responsible gold mining company that ensures sustainable social and economic growth in the countries where we operate,” the company said. The residents of Chukotka feel the results of the company’s social investments first hand. In 2019, the Kupol Foundation celebrated its tenth anniversary, which supports the local population, including indigenous peoples. Recently, the Rostok greenhouse and the Pevek poultry farm were opened in the region, which provide residents with fresh products at affordable prices. Kinross creates opportunities for schoolchildren and students in Magadan by hosting geology and science competitions and providing communication and career guidance training.