At Dow, our goal is to be a sustainability leader by providing products that support people and our planet’s wellbeing — whether by combatting climate change or working to eliminate waste. But we can’t do this alone.
I’ve always believed that the reason we should strive for a more sustainable world is to enjoy the highest-possible quality of life. Born on a dairy farm in Northwest Iowa, I learned the value of conservation at a young age. My grandfather received an award for being the first farmer in Iowa to use terraces to prevent soil erosion. We carried on his legacy by producing dairy for our region while protecting our fragile ecosystems. My childhood taught me a fundamental principle: Sustainable systems provide people with the resources they need to live well. The same is true in business.
After college, I joined Dow as a trained chemical engineer at a time when sustainability mostly meant that a company looked after its own eco-footprint. At Dow, even in 1988, we were practicing a more advanced sustainability without having a name for it. I spent most of my early career designing high-performance materials that reduced the use of plastic to provide customers with more value while benefitting the environment (and yes, a plastics company was working to help its customers use less plastic!). In 1992, Dow launched an external environmental council with leaders from NGOs, government, academia and business that played a vital role in furthering our approach to sustainability. Years later, our roots in science and innovation — coupled with an outside-in perspective on the environment — helped transform Dow into an industry leader.
Now, Dow’s and my time are focused on three key priorities: reducing plastic waste, putting plastic back into a circular economy, and reducing our carbon footprint.
Reducing plastic waste
One of our priorities is keeping plastic out of the environment and properly managing plastic after it serves its purpose. That means ensuring the right systems are in place for waste collection and management. Dow has been a long-time sponsor of consumer-based clean-up efforts including Keep America Beautiful’s Great American Clean-Up and the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Clean-Up. These events remove millions of pounds of waste from the environment while building awareness around the importance of prevention.
Putting plastic back into a circular economy
Supporting a plastics-related circular economy means assembling every piece of the circularity puzzle to make solutions work. This includes materials development, design and manufacturing, disposal and reuse. Dow has invested in co-creating many solutions that range from utilizing recycled plastic in newly paved roads to finding new uses for old mattresses.
We’re also really proud of the award-winning work we did with Kashi on its Bear Naked Granola flexible package. After listening to our customers, we realized that business needs to take the onus off the individual, and instead innovate new systems and products that make sustainability simple. Out of this partnership came an innovative new packaging and a drop-off recycling program at local retail stores. Products like these help people support sustainability in their daily lives.
There is a very human aspect to a circular economy, as well: local waste workers. I’m really excited about the Recycling for a Change program, which we’ve funded through the Avina Foundation. Often working at landfills or on the street, waste workers in countries including Brazil collect, sort and resell recyclables — yet, they’re undervalued and often subsist without a living wage. By providing training, professionalization and safer equipment, Recycling for a Change helps these waste workers transform their lives from vulnerable laborers to skilled professionals. In São Paulo, in only a few months, we saw a 70 percent increase in recycled goods and a 50 percent increase in the resale of recyclables. This is another project where the benefits are two-fold — we’re protecting the environment while improving people’s livelihoods.
Reducing our carbon footprint for climate action
Investments in a circular economy and reducing plastic usage play a meaningful role in tackling climate change, too. The relationship between plastics usage and carbon footprint is not as simple or intuitive as people would like. While most plastics are made from natural gas and oil, the production of which results in greenhouse gas emissions, plastics are used in applications that result in a lower carbon footprint than alternative materials.
Plastics can have other positive impacts, such as reducing the weight of vehicles, which reduces fuel consumption; and providing insulation for buildings, which reduces heating and cooling energy loads.
Recovery and reuse of recyclables such as plastic can play an important role in reducing climate risk, as well — by making more efficient use of the materials we’ve already invested in manufacturing.
In addition to creating circular solutions, Dow has set the long-term goal of becoming a carbon-neutral company by 2050. To achieve this, we’re addressing emissions from our operations, as well as indirect emissions across our value chain.
At Dow, our vision for the future is clear: to be a sustainability leader by providing innovative, sustainable products that support people and our planet’s wellbeing — whether by combatting climate change or working to eliminate waste. But we can’t do this alone.
That’s why we will continue to share our expertise in science, technology and innovation with partners. Join us; together, we will support and strengthen ecosystems everywhere — so that we can all enjoy a higher quality of life on this planet that we all share.
Learn more about our commitment to a world without waste here.