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going green

Dow Makes $10 Million Commitment to Sustainability

Posted by Shirley Brady on January 25, 2011 03:00 PM

Marking its biggest sustainability commitment to date, Dow Chemical Co. has pledged to make environmental protection a primary consideration in all its business decisions and to operate its plants in more nature-friendly ways in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

The $45 billion chemical company, via its foundation, is embarking on a five-year, $10 million collaboration with the eco-centric not-for-profit, which will advise Dow and provide technical assistance on reducing its ecological footprint. 

If the partnership works out as planned, as Time.com Ecocentric blogger Bryan Walsh notes, "the ecosystem will become a new and major component for Dow's bottom line, putting environmental sustainability on par with business sustainability."

"As part of the deal," Walsh adds, "the Dow Chemical Company Foundation will donate $7 million to fund the basic research to help TNC develop an ecosystem services methodology, while the remaining $3 million will go to TNC essentially as payment for consulting services to help Dow carries out that methodology... the two organizations have collaborated in the past on similar, if smaller projects, including a $1.5 million deal to help protect forests outside Sao Paulo, Brazil as a way to preserve that city's watershed."

Dow chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris (on the left in the photo above) and the Nature Conservancy president and CEO Mark Tercek (on the right) announced their deal at a meeting of the Detroit Economic Club yesterday, describing it the first Fortune 50 partnership to develop a long-term sustainability plan.

"This collaboration is designed to help us innovate new approaches to critical world challenges while demonstrating that environmental conservation is not just good for nature – it is good for business,” said Liveris in Dow's press release. "Companies that value and integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into their strategic plans are best positioned for the future by operationalizing sustainability."

"Admittedly, this effort is very much an experiment," commented Tercek about the multiyear corporate partnership with Dow — which puts the integrity of his organization on the line as much as it does Dow's reputation. "There is no established roadmap to guide a company the size of Dow on how to incorporate nature and biodiversity into its global business strategy. Throughout this process, we will learn by doing, and be open and transparent each step of the way."

Dow sees this as a critical to meeting its global sustainability goals' 2015 deadline. "We have been on a sustainability journey for close to 20 years," Dow's VP of sustainability, Neil Hawkins, told the Green Biz blog, adding:

"We had our first set of sustainability goals that ended in 2005. We're halfway through our 2015 sustainability goals. They're very focused on some of the areas you'd expect — EH&S performance, the whole life-cycle of our products, and delivering products that actually help the world solve major challenges. 

But the one area that we don't explicitly address is ecosystem services and biodiversity. It's an area we felt we needed to get better in. We have a long history in conservation, and probably have done as much conservation as most companies. But we needed a thoughtful, economic approach that builds directly into our business decision-making the value of nature to Dow — be it water, wetlands, forests, etc. And also the value we're providing, because we have a lot of land holdings and a lot of facilities worldwide."

"Imagine the potential of a company with the size and reach of Dow making a commitment to incorporate nature into its global business strategies," the Nature Conservancy's Tercek says. "What might that mean for green infrastructure? What might that mean for nature? What might that mean for a company’s bottom line? What might that mean for the health and prosperity of the communities around the world? Together, we’re going to find out."

Dow also just released a video promoting its global student challenge, which awards college and university students for innovative ideas on sustainability:

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