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From Purpose to Action: Building a Sustainable Future Together
Why Partnerships with Nonprofits Are Key to a More Sustainable Future

Dow is leading the charge in materials science, but we can’t do that science in a box without thinking about communities and the people within them. Nonprofit partnerships help us dig to the root of the most pressing problems in sustainability, find the best solutions and gain public buy-in to create real impact.

I’m a problem-solver. I like to get to the bottom of issues and figure out the best ways to solve them. It’s what drives my work in sustainability. I started my career in environmental consulting, where I basically cleaned up environmental messes; and switched to studying environmental policy in graduate school, because I wanted to get ahead of the problem instead of just dealing with the aftermath.

The drive to find solutions then led me to Texas, where I worked at a nonprofit to launch sustainability-focused initiatives including bike shares, solar panel installation and electric vehicle charging stations. In this work at the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), I saw firsthand how challenging it can be for nonprofits to find funding and get attention from companies big enough to help. And as I advanced into the role of program director of energy efficiency and environmental sciences, I dug deep into the community as I talked with the mayor’s office, sustainability office and other elected officials to find out what constituents really needed from us. We did the work to understand our communities so we could find real and lasting sustainability solutions.

After eight-and-a-half years with the HARC, I got the opportunity to work on another interesting and important problem: plastic pollution. The desire to get closer to that solution and create a more circular economy drives my work every day as the senior sustainability manager of packaging and specialty plastics, North America, at Dow. And my work at the HARC gave me a good idea of how to find some of the most effective on-the-ground solutions in sustainability: through partnerships with nonprofit organizations.

Digging to the root of the problem

In my role at Dow, I focus on building bridges with nonprofits to hear from people on the ground what communities need and how we can help them get it. Dow is leading the charge in materials science, but we can’t do that science in a box without thinking about communities and the people within them. Nonprofit partnerships help us dig to the root of the most pressing problems in sustainability, find the best solutions and gain public buy-in to create real impact.

For example, a plant worker in Louisiana once called me up and said, essentially, “You’re talking about the circular economy and recycling all the time, but I can’t even recycle at my house.” Louisiana has one of the lowest recycling rates in the country, and much of the problem lies in access. Many neighborhoods don’t have recycling carts or curbside pickup.

In the past, Dow has collaborated with the Recycling Partnership to donate resin for creating recycling carts for other neighborhoods. I called up the nonprofit to see if we could make it happen again in Louisiana; but it saw deeper into the problem and started a much bigger conversation about the local recycling landscape.

First, the Recycling Partnership pointed out the state’s lack of recycling sorting facilities. I figured that Dow could help solve that issue by providing funding for these resources; but then we learned that we couldn’t invest in sorting equipment if no material is being collected. It was essentially a “chicken or the egg” situation.

We’re still working on the solution in Louisiana; but if Dow had simply parachuted in with resin donations for bins, we wouldn’t have solved anything. Local areas would still lack the necessary infrastructure for curbside recycling. Only through working with a nonprofit, which was much closer to the issue, was Dow able to understand the full scope. Now, Dow has joined the Recycling Partnership’s work to determine the best investments to stop losing material to Louisiana landfills — and it’s going to take a lot more than just resin donation.

Meaningful change requires trust and community buy-in

According to the 2021 Trust in Civil Society Report, 84 percent of consumers have confidence that nonprofit organizations can strengthen society and contribute to the overall greater good for local areas. Nonprofits tend to work directly with communities, developing acute understanding and earning community trust. This trust is essential to gaining the buy-in it takes to create solutions with lasting impact.

In my five years at Dow, I’ve seen the company trying to authentically engage and improve communities many times; but at the end of the day, we are still a for-profit company. Nonprofits, on the other hand, are entirely purpose-driven. The public sees these organizations demonstrating support for communities’ best interests time and time again. They are uniquely positioned to create the buy-in that is essential in ensuring solutions will actually work.

For example, Dow works with the Galveston Bay Foundation to improve sustainability efforts in the community through initiatives such as the recent World Oceans Day cleanup — but an individual cleanup or even series of cleanups would have little lasting impact without the continued data collection, education and other programs that GBF provides the community.

“Our education programs get students of all ages outdoors and connected with nature through hands-on STEM curriculum, helping to inspire youth to become the future stewards of the Bay,” says the Galveston Bay Foundation website. Instilling knowledge and passion for sustainability work will ensure the staying power of sustainability in this community.

The best solutions start with conversations

Thoughtful collaboration is the key to real impact, and the power of conversations can’t be overstated. Nonprofits must have conversations with community members to understand their sustainability needs and discover which solutions will be truly viable; and for-profit organizations must have conversations with these nonprofits to know where they can have the most valuable impact.

Organizations exist to connect these pieces of the sustainability puzzle and foster vital conversations. Future 500, for example, is a nonprofit consultancy that “builds trust between companies, advocates, investors and philanthropists to advance business as a force for good.” Pyxera Global is another organization looking to reinvent how public, private and social interests engage in solving global challenges.

For-profit organizations might have funding along with technical and other resources to help drive change, but non-profits can inspire trust and develop understanding in communities in a new way. For Dow, nonprofit partnerships are an essential part of our process to keep plastic out of the environment, increase global recycling and circularity, and lead toward a more sustainable future.

Everyone has a role to play in creating a more sustainable world: Dow is taking action to address the full scale of challenges, collaborating with partners to improve the industry’s processes and through innovation to help communities become more sustainable.

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