TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
Dow Chemical Co. pledged Monday to make environmental protection a primary consideration in all its business decisions and to operate its plants in more nature-friendly ways in partnership with a leading conservation group.
The Michigan-based chemical company said it had entered a five-year, $10 million collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, which will advise Dow and provide technical assistance on reducing its ecological footprint. Executives said they hoped to lead the way to a new era in which corporations and environmental advocates would become less confrontational and work together for sustainable economic growth.
"Most people believe it's a choice -- it's either grow the economy or protect the environment . . . the classic zero-sum game in which someone has to lose," Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said in a joint appearance before the Detroit Economic Club with Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Dow intends to "demonstrate that protecting nature can be a profitable global priority and can be a smart business strategy," Liveris said.
Tercek said his nonprofit organization wasn't abandoning its belief in protecting nature for its own sake but could not ignore the economy's importance as an expanding world population makes ever-greater demands on water, land and other resources.
"We can't be opposed to economic development," Tercek said.
The partnership is designed to provide a model for other corporations and advocacy groups, he said, adding that details and results of its projects would be scientifically peer-reviewed and published.
The Nature Conservancy has worked with beverage makers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi and the German beer company Bavaria to improve water quality in areas where they have bottling plants, but the collaboration with Dow will be more extensive and is intended to cover all company operations, from choosing plant sites to land and water management, the group's leaders said.
Scientists with the company and the conservancy will begin implementing the new approach at three Dow manufacturing sites, said Neil Hawkins, Dow's vice president for sustainability. The locations have yet to be chosen, although the first is expected to be in the U.S., he said.
Dow and the conservancy are still working out details of how the initiative will work. But one example might be for Dow to make greater use of "green infrastructure," such as using trees, wetlands and other natural features for flood control and water treatment, Tercek said.
Two years ago, they agreed to team up on reforesting a degraded shoreline in an 865-acre area surrounding a reservoir in the Cachoeira region of Brazil to improve water quality for some 9 million residents of the Sao Paulo metropolitan area. The newly planted trees also will absorb carbon dioxide that otherwise would contribute to global warming, the conservancy said.
Liveris said Dow would assure its shareholders that emphasizing ecological sustainability is a good way to generate profits while meeting the demands of customers in the modern world. He acknowledged that his company was a big polluter decades ago, adding, "We can't operate that way today."
Michelle Hurd Riddick, an environmental activist battling Dow over the cleanup of dioxin contamination from its plant in Midland, said she hoped for good things from its partnership with The Nature Conservancy but feared it would be more show than substance.
Riddick's group, the Lone Tree Council, has long accused the company of dragging its feet in devising a plan for a 50-mile-long watershed that includes two rivers and Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay. Dow is negotiating details of the cleanup with state and federal regulators.
"Dow has a hard time being green on issues that really count, like cleaning up the mess in your own backyard," Riddick said.
In a phone conference with reporters, Liveris said Dow would live up to its responsibilities in dealing with the Michigan pollution.