February 12, 2012
By Neil Hawkins, The Dow Chemical Company, Vice President of Sustainability and EH&S, and Glenn Prickett, The Nature Conservancy, Chief External Affairs Officer
It’s amazing how time flies when you’re blazing new trails. In January of 2011, The Dow Chemical Company and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) embarked on a very important experiment – announcing a breakthrough collaboration that will help build a roadmap for how companies assess, incorporate and invest in nature and the services it provides. Dow and The Dow Chemical Company Foundation are collectively committing $10 million to the collaboration over five years.
This past January 24, on our one-year anniversary, we released our first annual collaboration Progress Report.
We believe this collaboration qualifies as truly “breakthrough,” because the tremendous importance and economic value of nature’s benefits are too often only appreciated upon their absence. Yet measuring how much nature is worth – while it’s still with us – is a critical and complicated task.
That’s why we are rolling up our collective sleeves, putting boots on the ground to test our methods, and engaging leaders and experts from a variety of disciplines along the way.
So what did we learn last year?
- That a leading conservation company and a global manufacturing company have a lot to learn from one another.
- That the opportunity for a company to capture nature’s value in their balance sheet is very real.
- That a lot of eyes are on our work, as companies, communities, media, and individuals from every sector and every corner of the globe have expressed support and desire to engage.
- That developing momentum in breakthrough projects starts from a full stop position for both organizations, but it builds and becomes formidable and delivers progress – go slow to go fast as the old adage says.
- That both organizations have had to bring on new expertise to accomplish the goals of this collaboration – it requires the best expertise available from inside and outside your organization.
- That bringing together two diverse organizations to accomplish big breakthrough requires a lot of dialogue and listening at every level.
We also confirmed our belief that arriving at the answers the world needs for large-scale impact can only be achieved through real-time study and application. Since the launch of the collaboration, the Conservancy and Dow have been working together to identify key ecosystem services —like water, air quality and coastal protection—that Dow relies upon and impacts at priority sites around the world.
Pilot Site Activity
Our teams will implement and refine ecosystem services and biodiversity assessment models at three Dow sites around the globe. These sites are “living laboratories” for developing, testing and implementing scientific and economic methods.
The first pilot site of the collaboration is Dow’s Texas Operations in Freeport, Dow’s largest integrated manufacturing site, and the largest single company chemical complex in North America. Texas Operations manufactures 44% of Dow products sold in the U.S. and more than 21% of Dow products sold globally.
Over 40 Dow and TNC experts convened in Freeport to determine critical ecosystem services the site depends on and/or impacts. The experts adapted the Ecosystem Services Review process – co-developed by the World Resources Institute, World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Meridian Institute – to identify priority ecosystem services.
From the identified dependencies and impacts, three ecosystem services were determined to have high value for investigation: Freshwater, Air Quality Mitigation, Coastal Natural Hazard Mitigation.
In parallel to the work at pilot sites, the Collaboration is developing tools that will inform corporate decision-making. The first is a Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES) Assessment Tool to provide business managers quick access to information on potential corporate risks and opportunities related to BES. Using global maps and indicators, it aims to help managers improve corporate visioning and goal setting, prioritization of global BES risks and opportunities, and alert individual business units of potential BES risks and opportunities in their areas. We have created an initial version of this tool and will be beta-testing and publishing it in 2012. Tools, models, lessons learned and results will be shared publicly and through peer-review for other companies, scientists and interested parties to test and apply.
Work Process Modification
The Collaboration is beginning to work to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services data and considerations into Dow’s work processes. As part of the ongoing work, the Collaboration has provided initial guidance on ecosystem services that may be incorporated into the following work processes: Environmental Impact Assessments and Supplier Questionnaires. TNC provided habitat information on Dow manufacturing locations that was included in Dow’s 2010 Annual Sustainability Report and will be in future reports produced by Dow.
We know that it will take public and private sector collaborations like this one to make real change happen — and to make the value of nature a fundamental consideration in business decisions. In 2012, we expect to announce the site of our second pilot in Brazil. By working in different global landscapes, we have a unique opportunity to review corporate operations globally, and share best practices and learnings with other companies more broadly. We have already learned from each other, and found new possibilities for business and nature to grow together.