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Collaboration as a Conduit for Sustainability, Solutions to World Challenges

Corporate sustainability is not a new concept. In recent years, companies across the globe have been increasingly applying sustainability practices and funneling investments into green technologies and sustainable solutions. But how can companies ensure that they are acting responsibly while also maximizing return on investments? And how can they continue to be on the cutting edge of sustainable developments, innovations and technologies?

Now more than ever, strategic partnerships between industry and governments, academia and non-government organizations (NGOs) are critical to finding solutions to challenges such as global hunger, access to clean water and harnessing renewable energy sources.

When sustainability is at the core of business and is connected to the conscience of an organization, it can be a platform for greater business growth and innovation, and an essential pillar of core business operations. For example, at Dow we established next-generation 2015 Sustainability Goals that focus on efforts beyond our own walls, committing the company to creating stronger relationships within the communities in which it operates, improving product stewardship and accelerating innovation while reducing our global footprint. This type of enterprise-level sustainability can, and should, be a conduit for developing formal partnerships, joint ventures and dually-supported initiatives. There are four key sectors for collaboration to advance sustainable solutions – industry, academia, NGOs and government.

Companies seeking strategic partnerships with these entities should first begin by stakeholder mapping and determining target areas or sectors that would help advance their sustainability goals. Once these strategic partners are identified, it’s imperative to seek out common ground so you and your partners can together push forward initiatives and efforts for the collective good. To do this, companies and potential partners must convene and set forth a shared corporate, high-level vision that offers a strategic direction for both entities. This shared vision will guide efforts and progress, allowing you and your partners to benchmark against a joint measure of success.

Following are a few key examples of partnerships fostered through a shared commitment to sustainability.

Industry Partnerships

Collaborations with chemical and technology companies can lead to the development of products and solutions that address energy efficiency, sustainability and water conservation.

For example, in 2009 Dow and Nalco Company implemented Nalco’s innovative 3D TRASAR® Technology for Cooling Water to treat the 80 process and comfort cooling tower systems for the 5,000-acre Freeport, Texas site. This technology resulted in annual water savings of one billion gallons of fresh water at our largest production site, which is enough water to supply nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. during one year. This translated to a $4 million per year reduction in maintenance costs, reduced energy cost, reduced water use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions savings.

Academia Partnerships

Establishing strategic partnerships with academic institutions around the world can advance scientific research and develop the world’s next generation of scientists and leaders.

Lending industry expertise and support to curriculum is another way for industry to collaborate effectively with academia. Through a five-year, multi-million dollar commitment in 2007, The Dow Chemical Company Foundation established a new Sustainable Products and Solutions (SPS) Program with the Center for Responsible Business at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, in partnership with its College of Chemistry. The mission of the SPS Program is to establish a diverse research community dedicated to finding new, innovative ways to integrate sustainability into the life of products and business.  In 2010, the program funded more than 20 projects and programs throughout the university.

NGO Partnerships

NGOs play an important role in advocating for sustainable solutions, and companies can collaborate by sharing information, developing research initiatives, collaborating on innovative solutions and best practices, and finding common ground on key science and environmental issues.

For example, in January 2011, Dow and The Nature Conservancy announced a $10 million collaboration to help define the value of nature for industry. We will work together to apply scientific knowledge and experience to examine how our operations rely on and affect nature. The aim of the collaboration is to advance the incorporation of the value of nature into business, and to take action to protect the earth’s natural systems and the services they provide people, for the benefit of both business and society. One of the major objectives of this collaboration is to share all tools, lessons learned and results publicly and through peer-review so that others can test and apply them to their own initiatives and business decision-making.

Government/Regulatory Partnerships

Dow works with governmental institutions and agencies worldwide to advance the role of chemistry in today’s society to meet the needs for tomorrow. Collaborations and research partnerships enable Dow to share information and insight into key scientific applications and combine strengths in pursuit of breakthrough solutions. Dow also supports the development of responsible, science-based regulations and global standards that safeguard the community, workplace and environment; Dow welcomes appropriate review by governments to maintain and enhance public acceptance of its operations and products.

There are also opportunities for cross-sector partnerships such as The Future We Create series which provides an online meeting ground for 60 thought leaders from NGOs, academia, government and industry to discuss pressing issues facing the world. Most recently, Dow facilitated a dialogue on the The Future of Water which provided insights and constructive solutions for addressing challenges of global water scarcity, the water-energy nexus and aging infrastructure.

These partnerships are just a few examples of how now, more than ever, collaboration with government, NGOs, academia and industry is critical to achieving a company’s sustainability goals and addressing – and ultimately solving – the pressing challenges facing our world.

Dr. Neil Hawkins serves as Vice President of Sustainability and Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) for The Dow Chemical Company. In this global role, Hawkins drives sustainability strategy across the company’s businesses and geographies, and is accountable for the implementation of Dow’s transformational 2015 Sustainability Goals. He leads a team of sustainability and lifecycle professionals and also has global leadership responsibility for Dow’s organizations and programs for Product Safety/Toxicology, Regulatory Affairs, Medical/Health Services, Epidemiology, EH&S Auditing and Compliance, and Remediation. He has served in a wide range of EH&S, Operations, and Public Policy leadership roles since joining the company in 1988. Hawkins is also a widely recognized authority on sustainable business practices and environmental policy. He serves on the National Academies Roundtable for Science and Technology for Sustainability, and the Corporate Eco Forum Leadership Council. He is a board member of The Keystone Center, Global Water Challenge and the World Environment Center. Hawkins also leads Dow’s global university relationships in the area of sustainability, including the Dow Sustainable Innovation Student Challenge Awards, and he is a member of the Advisory Board of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan.

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2 thoughts on “Collaboration as a Conduit for Sustainability, Solutions to World Challenges

  1. Mr. Neil Hawkins,
    Your vision on how sustainable corporations and cooperation will emerge is similar what I have experienced as well. In the process of developing a state-level (MN) effort to define “reasonable assurance” for agriculture water quality, a “shared governance” approach emerged as the most efficient process and maintained the dignity of all stakeholders involved. I expanded this into a concept I called “EcoCommerce” and recently released a book by the same name. In that case the shared governance is integrated with corporate ‘shared value’ and provides a very cost effective and fluid means to engage in economically sustainable commerce.
    Best,
    Tim Gieseke

  2. I am wondering what is the best way to push this thinking down the supply chain as I agree it is a good idea. As part of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) strategy section (question 2.3) probes into this.

    Should partnering be part of ES&G standards and protocols? Or is this something that needs to come from the culture? Is gentle prodding from customers better than making it a purchase requirement?

    In any event I think it is a great article. When people and organizations come together under a true common purpose the sum is usually greater than the parts alone.

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