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US chemical giant opts for the triple bottom line

November 1999

Dow Chemical Company has become one of the first businesses in the world to give ‘equal weight’ to economic, social and environmental responsibility by publishing a single triple bottom line report.

The US-based chemical, plastics and agro-products manufacturer, which operates in 32 countries, has used the 1999 ‘Public Report’ to set out a ‘to do’ list of the company’s next steps.

Chief among these is a commitment to draw up a set of ‘sustainability development principles’ that will build on the chemical industry’s voluntary Responsible Care guidelines.

But it also pledges to expand its sustainable development workshops to cover more Dow businesses, and begin collecting and analysing social data.

John Elkington, co-founder and chairman of the SustainAbility consultancy, said the report showed the company – which in the past has been the target of intense campaigning by environmentalists – was now taking its wider responsibilities seriously.

‘In the late 1960s and early 1970s Dow Chemical was something of a pariah among my generation, especially on issues such as Vietnam, defoliants and dioxin,’ he said. ‘Today Dow is something of a byword for openness and stakeholder engagement – as this public report shows.’

Thomas Gladwin, professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, who advised Dow on the report, claimed it was ‘a pioneering and courageous effort’ and claimed that with ‘further transformational changes’ the company could become ‘a genuinely sustainable enterprise’.

The 52 page report, which has been produced in seven languages, shows that:

leaks, breaks and spills were reduced by eight per cent in 1998, but at the current rate of progress, Dow will struggle to meet its 2005 target of a 90 per cent reduction on 1991 levels

Dow’s 1998 goal for incident reduction was missed, although it was 18 per cent better than 1997

chemical emissions fell by five per cent in 1998.

Energy efficiency has remained ‘essentially flat’ since 1994

$18 million was donated to community initiatives in 1998

measuring the proportion of different ethnic minorities in the US workforce has now begun.

The company plans to publish a shorter ‘public report update’ in 2000, outlining its progress against the 1999 goals.

Its next large-scale report is planned for 2001, when it intends to provide ‘more meaningful numbers and comparisons on dimensions such as volunteering, employee training, and diversity’.

The 2000 report will also present results of a series of global community perception surveys – already under way – that aim to analyse the effectiveness of Dow’s community relations programme.

Dow, which has been producing environment reports for ten years, drew on the expertise of its corporate environmental advisory council founded to help produce the Public Report.




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