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We live in a new dimension of environmental responsibility carried by business

18 november 2019


In mid-October, Moscow hosted the VIII Ecological Forum attended by representatives from the State, large industrial companies, scientific and public organizations. The forum delegates discussed the issues related to finding a balance between the socio-economic development of the country’s regions and the preservation of a decent environment, as well as how to apply the laws regulating the ecological problems of industrial production. Dmitry Pristanskov, Vice President of Norilsk Nickel summed up the results of the Ecological Forum and told about the participation of his company in the implementation of the National Ecology Project in an interview with Rough&Polished.

The recent VIII Ecological Forum discussed the environmental responsibility of big business to society, and Norilsk Nickel was named as an example in this respect. Does it really mean that the “new era of civilized ecology” has come to life?

I believe that we really live in a new dimension of environmental responsibility carried by big business. Of course, it cannot be said that all technological problems have been solved, and now only oxygen is flowing from the pipes of industrial giants. Most importantly, changes have occurred in thinking and approaches to environmental protection. Indeed, nature is not just a beautiful decoration surrounding us and not a set of resources that we use. This is an integral part of people's lives, and what this life will be like depends on us and in many respects on what environmental goals and objectives are pursued by big business today. Already a whole number of socially responsible companies are carrying out ecological modernization of their enterprises on their own, without being prompted by authorities.

Alexander Shokhin, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs noted that the lion's share of expenses - 80% - for the National Ecology Project is carried by big business. When did this turning point occurred and when did Norilsk Nickel started to think about nature conservation? What is its responsibility to future generations?

Yes, in the framework of the National Ecology Project, large industrial enterprises allocate impressive financial resources for the implementation of environmental measures. But I would not call it expenses - it is an investment in the future, and this is precisely our responsibility to our descendants. And, of course, it is not yesterday that Norilsk Nickel began to deal with environmental issues. But first, let's recall that in Soviet times, nature protection was of little interest to anyone, and we got a very difficult legacy.

In 2013, the company adopted a new strategy in which environmental projects became a priority. I want to note that the program of modernizing and reconfiguring production, which is being implemented by Norilsk Nickel on an unprecedented scale, is environmentally friendly in its principal thrust. Over the past three years alone, the company allocated more than 80 billion rubles to protect the environment.

In 2016, we closed the oldest operation in Norilsk, which is the Nickel Plant built back in 1939. As a result, sulfur dioxide emissions in the urban area decreased by 30-35%. Breathing in the city has become easier. Next in turn is the closure of a similar obsolete production site in the village of Nickel of the Murmansk Province. In 2020, emissions from the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company will be reduced by 50% compared to 2015. And this is good news not only for the residents of Nickel, but also for the border areas of Norway.

How is your partnership with the state going on? Please say a few words about your cooperation agreements with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, Federal Service for Supervision of Nature Resources and Government of the Krasnoyarsk Territory.

Norilsk Nickel is building its relations with the authorities based on the principles of transparency and openness and has long established itself as a reliable partner of the state. This also applies to our cooperation in the environmental field.

This year, the company entered into an agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia, the Federal Service for Supervision of Nature Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) and the Government of the Krasnoyarsk Territory on cooperation in implementing a comprehensive plan to reduce atmospheric emissions in Norilsk.

We are talking about the pivotal event in our large-scale environmental program - the Sulfur Project, which in terms of financial costs will make up a significant share of the funds sourced beyond government allocations for the federal Clean Air Project. The amount of project financing from the funds of Norilsk Nickel for 2019-2022 exceeds 123 billion rubles. The total funding for the Sulfur Project is at least 150 billion rubles.

Its goal is to achieve a level of overall reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions in the Norilsk industrial region by 2023.

We have a separate agreement with Rosprirodnadzor. In accordance with this agreement, Norilsk Nickel takes on additional financial obligations to implement environmental programs. In particular, the company together with Rosprirodnadzor intends to equip its metallurgical operations with automatic measuring and accounting instruments to register air pollutant emissions. In addition, the agreement provides for interaction in the process of improving the environmental regulatory framework. In fact, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia and the Federal Service for Supervision of Nature Resources happen to be our ideological allies.

How do the principles of sustainable development influence the relationship between business and the state?

As I understand it, we are talking about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015. I want to note right away that the company not only fully supports the global sustainable development agenda, but also integrates the UN SDGs into the strategy and practice of its daily work.

Since the UN SDGs cannot be achieved only through the efforts of governments and public organizations, Norilsk Nickel is also a pilot participant in the UNCTAD (an intergovernmental body of the UN General Assembly on trade and development) project in Russia to test the performance of business companies in achieving the SDGs.

Just the other day, the 18th session of the General Conference of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) was held in Abu Dhabi, where we signed a declaration with Li Yong, Director General of UNIDO, whose goal is the joint development of projects, including environmentally friendly technologies for the metallurgical industry .

Sustainable development is the ideology of doing business by a company. Norilsk Nickel’s plans to achieve the SDGs are represented by a set of measures and programs aimed at improving management efficiency and modernizing production, social development and minimizing environmental impact. Particular attention is paid to improving the quality of life of people in the company’s areas of activity.

Naturally, all these aspects are reflected in joint projects between government and business.   

The forum participants talked a lot about the Sulfur Project. You mentioned it as well. Nikolai Utkin, Director of the Polar Division of Norilsk Nickel said that the technological equipment of this project surpasses many world analogues. What are the best available technologies used to implement the Sulfur Project?

The Sulfur Project is aimed at modernizing the production process at the Nadezhdinski Metallurgical Plant and at the Copper Plant in Norilsk. The necessary partial reconfiguration will be made there, and sulfur dioxide capture facilities will be built. The technology involves the conversion of dioxide into sulfuric acid, which is then neutralized with limestone to produce gypsum. The resulting product can be used as a construction material.

One can judge about the scale of this project at least taking into account the allocated construction area exceeding 290,000 square meters, which corresponds to approximately 39 football fields.

Is there a contradiction between production workers and environmentalists - or is it a far-fetched contradiction, as Vladimir Grachev, President of the Vernadsky Environmental Fund said at the forum?

I do not see any contradictions. If we build cooperation with environmental organizations on an honest and transparent basis, then it takes on the format of a constructive dialogue. We cooperate with the All-Russian Society for the Conservation of Nature, with the aforementioned Non-Governmental Environmental Fund named after Vladimir Vernadsky, with the Ecological Chamber of Russia, with Green Patrol and National Ecological Order.

It is important that we together understand the significance of the relationship between sustainable development and human centricity, when the interests of nature, the interests of man and the economy should not contradict but complement each other.

Joint work with experts allows us to objectively evaluate the results of our environmental activities. These estimates are becoming increasingly positive. For example, Bellona, ​​the international environmental human rights center that criticized us earlier, noted the company's achievements at the last forum. In particular, Alexander Nikitin, Director General of this organization in Russia said that now Norilsk Nickel speaks the same language with environmentalists and emphasized that all of the announced plans for the environmental transformation of the company are being implemented.   

How to stimulate business to introduce green technologies? What tax breaks or preferences can (or should) the state use?

As we have said, today no special stimulation is required. Big business consciously comes with leading initiatives to build a green economy. At the same time, not all companies are in the same conditions. If we talk about Norilsk Nickel, we must understand that our main production sites operate in the Arctic Zone and this leaves a very serious imprint on the implementation of the company's projects. It is about creating and maintaining the entire associated infrastructure, including social, and ensuring all aspects of life.

And here, of course, state support would not be superfluous. I am talking about the use of such mechanisms as the Regional Investment Project and the Special Investment Contract. We have such experience in the Trans-Baikal Territory and in the Murmansk Province.

In terms of supporting the implementation of large environmental projects, the reduction of corporate property tax rates may be mentioned as an actual example. The Legislative Assembly of the Krasnoyarsk Territory adopted this law in the first reading.

One of the main components of efficiency in the implementation of large environmental projects, of course, is the invariability of the tax and other fiscal regimes throughout the entire period - from start to finish of a project.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished