Dow Chemical gets back to nature

Partnership with the Nature Conservancy underscores the growing need for cooperation between for-profit and non-profit organizations in quest for more sustainable world.

Dow Chemical plans to put $10 million into a new partnership with The Nature Conservancy, a collaboration that is focused on helping the giant chemical, plastics and agrobusiness better incorporate the "value" of nature in its worldwide business initiatives.

The specific scope of the planned five-year partnership will focus on using scientific information and experience to help Dow figure out how its operations impact nature. The information is supposed to be available and shared publicly -- and reviewed by "peers" -- so that other organizations like Dow might be able to benefit from the knowledge. The specific focus, at least initially, will be on how Dow's operations specifically impact land and water management policies for at least three Dow manufacturing sites. It will include both ecosystem services and biodiversity assessments for those (unnamed) facilities. Decisions that might be affected could include how the company picks sites for its operations, how it might handle recycling and reuse, and what impact is strategies to use natural resources -- such as forests -- might have on surrounding communities.

In Q&A document related to the announcement, scientists for The Nature Conservancy says the sites for the initial work will be picked where there is an intersection between Dow's business and priorities of the non-profit group. Says Joseph Kiesecker, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Lands Team: "They'll be in places that are both geographic priorities for the Conservancy's work and that are under increasing threat from future land-use changes that may impact biodiversity and nature's benefits. They will also be places where Dow is making business decisions that can be informed by our analysis -- for example, where Dow is planning to build new or expanded facilities or concerned about the long-term sustainability of a resource, like water. ... We're going to structure each of the pilots as Development by Design projects, with the goal of achieving net gains for nature in addition to any changes Dow might make in its business practices or policies. So these pilot projects will deliver conservation returns to places we care about."

Says Andrew Liveris, Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO:

"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. Companies that value and integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into their strategic plans are best positioned for the future by operationalizing sustainability. At Dow, we see sustainability as an adjective and one that we apply to almost everything we do: sustainable manufacturing, sustainable solutions and sustainable opportunities to constantly add to the quality of life for our communities and fellow citizens."

I have to be honest. I see a lot of sustainability pronouncements every day and I am apt to view the ones from companies in certain industries -- energy and chemicals among them -- with a certain amount of skepticism.

But money talks, and I don't think this commitment is mere greenwashing. In my mind, $10 million is serious amount to focus on what is essentially environmental R&D.

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