Expert Insight

Polymetal's sustainability champion

CSO Daria Goncharova talks coal in Siberia, WiM's top 100, and Geeks and Geezers

August 12, 2020

Chris Cann

Expert Insight
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February 21, 2020
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Russian-focused gold miner Polymetal has scaled remarkable heights in recent years in terms of its sustainability record, in large part thanks to its chief sustainability officer, Daria Goncharova, who returned to the company in 2015 after a brief stint away, honing her skills. She sat down with Mining Journal recently to explain what has motivated her to this point and talk us through her next set of targets.

Mining Journal: How did you get started in the mining industry?

Daria Goncharova: I was born and spent my early years in a coal mining community in Siberia, a region rich in natural resources. In fact, coal is called the heart of Siberia, because without heating nothing survives! My parents and grandparents were mining engineers so I was surrounded by talk of mining equipment and operations. Outside my home, life in these mining communities was pretty tough, particularly in in the 1990s-early 2000s. The climate and poor living conditions led to bad health and chronic drunkenness, mainly from boredom and lack of opportunities, and, of course, the coal dust was everywhere.

We moved to St Petersburg when I was still at school, and it felt like being rescued - I was in paradise! So, when I considered going to the university, I wanted to do anything but mining. I dreamt of travelling the world and being involved in international business, and so I did my undergraduate degree in international relations. Strangely, it was at the university when I realised I wanted to return to my mining roots somehow, and maybe one day actually help the people who stayed behind.

Once I graduated, an internship took me to Severstal where I worked on translations and conferences in the business development department. I saw an opportunity to combine my international business interest and qualifications with my mining background.

Fortunately, my father was always on hand to help with technical mining advice, which compensated for my lack of experience in the early days. That is, in part, how I got a start in the Polymetal investor relations team.

MJ: What was Polymetal like when you joined?

DG: It was extremely intense. Polymetal was preparing for premium London listing in 2010/2011 when I joined. I was running around the country, travelling to mining sites, preparing for due diligence, working with bankers and lawyers - I learnt a lot through the process.

The IPO was a big success. Although I was fairly junior, I had played a role in the process, which gave me confidence. After the listing I wanted to focus on CSR and sustainable development. This was already a hot topic back then - investors would come to meetings asking about our water management strategy, climate change strategy and our approach to health and safety. Senior management has never needed to be pushed on these issues, which is something I have always admired about Polymetal.

We need a uniform set of standards across the industry supported by the rating community applying relevant and practicable criteria

But when I immersed myself in sustainability policies and reporting I increasingly felt out of my depth. A few years later, I left the company to enrol in a master's degree in environmental management and CSR at Luigi Bocconi University in Italy - the best of its kind, globally. After a year studying and a short stint in the solar power business, I found myself back at Polymetal in 2015 where I was offered the role of chief sustainability officer.

MJ: How would you describe the experience since then?

DG: I am really proud. With or without me, the company's culture has evolved. Sustainable development has become one of the top priorities for the management team. I have brought a good understanding of international best practice and, together, we are getting much better at both integrating and reporting.

We are signatories on all the important global initiatives, from environmental stewardship to community engagement to safety management to transparency. Polymetal is the first and only Russian member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and in the top 7% of the industry globally in the FTSE4Good Index. We are also proud to have achieved MSCI score A and the first position among 55 global peers by Sustainalytics. We score strongly on several other ESG-related ratings systems and have a near-perfect performance for a handful of governance and transparency markers.

I wanted Polymetal to lead the way in sustainability among Russian companies and to be among the ESG leaders in the global mining sector - that's why I came back. To see that become a reality is an incredible feeling. There are small and big steps in the right direction behind each of the ESG points we gain. Improving safety at mines, improving social infrastructure for our communities, providing further education and training, ensuring good quality of air and water, saving energy and becoming more transparent - that is what really matters.

MJ: Did it mean much to be included in the Top 100 Women in Mining in 2018?

DG: It was amazing when I heard. I could only say ‘Wow!'. I thought it would take until I was at least 50 to do enough to qualify so then I started thinking: ‘What's next?'

MJ: So, what is next?

DG: For any CSO the biggest challenge is the perception of stakeholders. On the one hand, some investors treat the environmental and social record as only a formality that needs to be ticked off. However, on the other, there are stakeholders who almost expect miners to stop digging. Both positions need to be addressed.

The mining industry has the right to exist. Human civilisation needs mining but it should not be detrimental to the world we live in. As a result, much of what I do is help to educate investors about the issues and about us; help them set high-but-realistic markers against which miners can be judged.

My big hope is that the leading rating agencies will tailor their approach to mining. We need a uniform set of standards across the industry supported by the rating community applying relevant and practicable criteria.

My other immediate goal is to push for more research spending on technologies that reduce our environmental impact and improve our energy efficiencies. These are two areas we think we can make a big difference and perhaps become a leader.

MJ: How much collaboration is needed to improve the industry's reputation?

DG: Industry associations are a little too focused on their own work and don't communicate broadly to external stakeholders. Perhaps a greater focus on investors and some guidelines for the industry in line with socially responsible investment criteria would be helpful.

MJ: Have you read any books that have shaped you?

DG: Probably ‘Geeks & Geezers' by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas. It's about different types of leaders - old-fashioned and more contemporary leadership styles. It's a wonderful book and it explains the generational difference between views on leadership.

I used to see leaders of my father's generation, giving orders and behaving essentially as autocrats. I thought I could never be a leader because that's just not in my character. But, through reading this book, I saw that is possible to lead in many ways, including by consensus, while still setting an example. That is the type of leader I'm trying to be.

Polymetal is a commercial partner, helping to build and support the Mining Journal Stakeholder Engagement programme

Expert Insight
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August 12, 2020

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