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Dow, TNC Study Highlights Power of Green Infrastructure in Natural Disaster Protection

The Dow Chemical Company and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have released a new study focusing on how nature can help protect business assets from natural disasters. Based on research completed as part of the ongoing Dow-TNC collaboration, the study demonstrates that asset protection strategies can include green infrastructure — such as marshes, mangroves, coral and oyster reefs — along with more conventional infrastructure — such as dikes and levees — to protect business assets from hurricanes and flooding.

As financial losses due to natural catastrophes continue to increase and storm activity escalates, the need for adequate infrastructure has become much more apparent. For example, according to the Insurance Information Institute, 2011 marked the largest worldwide loss on record with $380 billion in total losses — 37 percent of which can be attributed to storms and flooding — shining light on a need for more resilient infrastructure to help protect people and assets in the worst weather conditions.

Published online and in the October print edition of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM), the study — entitled "Evaluating the Role of Coastal Habitats and Sea-Level Rise in Hurricane Risk Mitigation: an ecological economic assessment method and application to a business decision” — gives businesses and governments responsible for billions of dollars in assets in coastal environments reason to consider natural defenses in their risk-management strategies, particularly in defending those assets against hurricanes.

“The U.S. Gulf Coast is home to engineering, research, distribution and shipping, and manufacturing facilities that produce and ship thousands of products, enhancing the quality of life for people around the world,” said Earl Shipp, VP of Dow U.S. Gulf Coast Operations. “Our study with TNC has shown Dow some very unique and creative ways on how we can best safeguard coastal facilities and manufacturing sites, and shows others how to do the same, using a combination of readily available natural resources and other protective measures.”

The joint Dow/TNC study focused on Dow’s largest integrated manufacturing facility worldwide — Dow Texas Operations located in Freeport, Texas — and sought to evaluate options for protecting a major coastal manufacturing facility. The findings were as follows:

  • Natural-hazard risk-mitigation strategies that use both levees and habitats at the study site can provide the greatest benefits to businesses, the public and biodiversity.
  • Coastal marshes can reduce the destructive force of waves from storms, potentially reducing wave heights, damages, and levee construction costs.
  • This reduction in the storm force of waves can provide some protection near shore and under small storm conditions, which may help mitigate sea-level rise and improve levee performance.
  • However, protection at the study site far from shore and under large storm conditions was not sufficient to warrant a reduction in levee height.
  • Additionally, coastal marshes have social, environmental and economic benefits beyond those of traditional infrastructure, including providing recreational opportunities, support for fisheries and habitat for wildlife.

“This study breaks new ground by providing risk managers with information on where natural habitats may be effective, and a replicable method for assessing the role of habitats in other geographies or hazard conditions,” said Sheila Reddy, lead author of the study and behavioral economics scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

Mark Weick, director of Dow sustainability programs, also described how this work ultimately helps Dow deliver its 2025 Sustainability Goals. “The goal of the Dow-TNC collaboration is to better incorporate the value of nature into business decision-making,” said Weick. “As Dow seeks to deliver $1 billion in net present value from projects that are good for business and good for nature by 2025, the studies and tools produced by the collaboration will be a key part of how we progress toward our goal.”

This study results from the ongoing 6-year, $10-million Dow-TNC collaboration, which is dedicated to understanding how to incorporate the value of nature into business decision-making. Launched in 2011, the collaborative work involves validating tools and models that can assign a value to ecosystem services — such as water, land, air, oceans and a variety of plant and animal life — in order to support Dow’s decision-making when it comes to designing, constructing and operating its manufacturing sites. Results from this collaboration will be shared publicly for the benefit of other companies and the scientific and economic communities.

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