Dow Chemical’s ecological footprints prior to its collaboration with TNC

Since The Dow Chemical Company began its operation in 1897, it has become one of the world’s largest multinational chemical corporations.[1] Dow has expanded its business and networks across the globe, producing specialized chemicals, plastic materials, and agricultural products and services. The history of Dow Chemical reveals that this company has participated in many pollution incidents, court cases, and enforcement actions mandated by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many environmentalists named Dow as one of the world’s largest polluters because of its lack of environmental oversight.

In 1915, Dow’s Midland facility began discharging chemicals and waste into the Tittabawassee River without any permission.[2] EPA’s assessment of the Midland facility showed that Dow violated three federal environmental laws including the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Clean Water Act.[3] For nearly a century, hazardous pollutants from that incident have contaminated the groundwater and other natural resources, which negatively impacts wildlife and people who live near the Tittabawassee River. A few decades later, on September 11, 1957, a national catastrophe of radioactive waste leakage occurred at the Rocky Flats facility, managed by Dow from 1951 to 1975.[4] The officials of Dow Chemical and the Department of Energy covered up the environmental and health effects of this incident on the local residents from the public for at least thirteen years. The plutonium contamination of the Denver metro area’s soil and air became top secret in the company’s environmental history.

The other half of the twentieth century was marked by the involvement of Dow in producing chemical compounds that supported the agricultural and military imperialism utilized by the U.S in control of the developing world. In the 1960s, Dow contributed to the production of Agent Orange, a substance that America sprayed over the land of former South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.[5] This substance has stayed in the soil and water sources like rivers and lakes, moved into the food chain, and caused disastrous impacts on natural and human environments for many generations in Vietnam. For the next decades, Dow produced pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers for the imperialist relationship between the U.S and Central American countries. In 2007, Nicaraguans sued Dow for having its pesticide products like DBCP used on banana plantations since the 1970s and 1980s.[6]  As Dow expands its facilities throughout the U.S and over many countries, the company keeps releasing and producing more chemical waste, which causes tremendous damage to human and environmental health.

[1] Katz, Rebecca S. “The corporate crimes of Dow chemical and the failure to regulate environmental pollution.” Critical Criminology 18, no. 4 (2010): 295-306.

[2] Ibid

[3] US Environmental Protection Agency. “Dow Chemical Company Settlement”. Accessed by April 20, 2016

[4] Cohen, Andrew. “A September 11th Catastrophe You’ve Probably Never Heard About”. The Sep 10, 2012. Accessed by May 11, 2016:

[5] Katz, Rebecca S. “The corporate crimes of Dow chemical and the failure to regulate environmental pollution.” Critical Criminology 18, no. 4 (2010): 295-306.

[6] Bohme, Susanna Rankin. Toxic injustice: a transnational history of exposure and struggle. Univ of California Press, 2014.


TNC and The Dow Chemical Company partnership

By the end of the twentieth century, Dow Chemical initiated fundamental changes, articulating sustainability goals as part of its values. Since 1995, the company inaugurated the first attempts at reducing its own ecological footprint through the establishment of 2005 Environment, Health & Safety Goals.[1] Using science and technology, experts from Dow have promised to address global challenges, given the support of its partnerships with government agencies, NGOs, and top academic institutions. Among Dow’s partners, TNC has been involved in one of the biggest collaborative projects that Dow is leading to meet the “Valuing Nature” Goal, one of its seven 2025 Sustainability Goals.[2]

In 2011, TNC started to work with Dow on a six-year collaboration, developing assessment tools for the valuation of nature and promoting conservation solutions as part of a global business strategy.[3] TNC has helped Dow conduct field research at different pilot sites within various ecosystems and created a technical tool called the Ecosystem Service Identification and Inventory (ESII), which can be used widely by Dow’s managers and staff.[4] In the first three years of the partnership, their initial research work in Freeport, Texas and Santa Vitoria, Brazil the analyzed costs and benefits of potential nature-based solutions that benefit business, society, and nature.[5] TNC has addressed how Dow benefits from or impacts natural habitats and local community and examined how nature can serve as a solution for the environmental problems caused by Dow’s existing projects in the context of climate change impacts. During the second half of the TNC-Dow collaboration, TNC is facilitating the process of training Dow’s managers and engineers to apply the new tools and landscape conservation approaches throughout multiple projects.[6] All of the case studies highlight the opportunities for Dow to balance economic and environmental trade-offs.

In return, Dow and its Foundation have contributed a large amount of grants to TNC’s conservation projects in Michigan and Brazil. Since 2011, with one and a half million dollars from Dow Chemical, TNC is carrying out the Cachoeira Restoration Project, which aims to restore 865 acres near the Cantareira Water Reservoir.[7]Besides financial support, Dow has helped TNC utilize the ESII tool and other analyses of the collaboration for other companies working with TNC.

[1] The Dow Chemical. “Footprint, Handprint, and Blueprint”. Accessed by May 1, 2016

[2] The Nature Conservancy. “Working with Companies: Dow Announces Business Strategy for Conservation.”

[3] The Nature Conservancy and The Dow Chemical Company. “2015: A Year in Review – Working Together to Value Nature”.  February 2016.

[4] Ibid

[5] Tercek, Mark. The Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. New York: Perseus, 2013

[6] “Understanding Dow’s Nature Goal – What is Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goal around “Valuing Nature”?” The Nature Conservancy. Accessed April 2nd, 2016.

[7] See note 2

[8] “Importance of Corporate Sustainability – The Dow Chemical Company”, The Nature Conservancy, accessed by March 6, 2016,

Results of TNC-Dow collaboration

After five years of collaboration, TNC and Dow have shown that the assessment of the values of nature can bring about both better business and conservation outcomes. The collaboration has established a foundation for determining the value of ecosystem services. The Sheila Walsh Reddy Reddy, Senior Scientist for Sustainability at The Nature Conservancy and Pilot Lead for the TNC-Dow Collaboration, emphasizes that the model of this partnership resolves around Dow’s understanding of the value of a healthy ecosystem for its manufacturing facilities.[1]

As the world’s second largest chemical manufacturing plant, production at the Texas Operations facility relies on the surrounding natural ecosystems. By 2013, TNC helped Dow identified the values of ecosystem services provided by native forests, freshwater assets, and coastal habitats in its pilot site Freeport of the collaboration.[2] Analyzing the roles of reforestation, coastal habitats, and freshwater assets, TNC has encouraged Dow to account for the value of nature and pursuit of nature-based solutions in daily decisions at the Texas Operations plant. Ending in 2014, activities at the second pilot site in Brazil identified options for Dow’s expansion in agricultural production and commitment to conservation under Brazil’s Forest Code in Santa Vitoria, an agricultural region near two crucial areas for biodiversity: the Cerrado and the Atlantic Forest. TNC and Dow identified all possible options of protecting natural land, biodiversity, and water quality through different land use plans. TNC found that Dow can strategically use a landscape approach to protect large-scale natural land, consolidating agricultural land and moving farming activities away from important natural habitats.

The TNC-Dow collaboration has applied the above techniques into Dow’s ongoing projects in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and the Netherlands.[3] For example, the Midland Greenbelt project plays an important role in addressing the issue of the Tittabawasssee River incident, by restoring the Dow greenbelt and additional city-owned brownfield property with lower maintenance costs. The collaboration between TNC and Dow produces a replicable tool and methodology for other companies to evaluate the business practices and use nature-based solutions to confront business challenges. The findings create incentives beyond philanthropy for future investment in conservation by corporations. More importantly, TNC and Dow are approaching government bodies to consider policy changes, so businesses obtain easy access to environmental solutions. The collaboration has published peer-reviewed scientific papers on their case studies to encourage discussion and dialogue among environmentalists and policy makers.

[1] “Understanding Dow’s Nature Goal – What is Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goal around “Valuing Nature”?” The Nature Conservancy. Accessed April 2nd, 2016.

[2] Ibid

[3] The Nature Conservancy and The Dow Chemical Company. “2015: A Year in Review – Working Together to Value Nature”.  February 2016.

Coca-Cola’s ecological footprints prior to its collaboration with TNC



The Coca-Cola Company has established the world’s most conspicuous brand in the soft drink industry. In 2013, the massive production of Coca-Cola awarded this multinational company fifth place among the world’s most valuable trademarks.[1] To secure its leading position, Coca-Cola lobbied the government and private sectors to extract raw materials for their production inputs at low costs. A 125-year environmental history of Coca-Cola shows that with the support of capitalism, this company has lead the soft drink industry as it pushes the supply of resources to the limits of sustainability.

Since Dr. John Stith Pemberton started Coca-Cola on May 8, 1886, the Coca-Cola Company succeeded in minimizing production costs by squeezing nature to its carrying capacity.[2] In 1899, the company erected a bottling franchise system relying on public pipes to supply regional markets across America. The company drained millions of gallons of water from public pipes to produce its beverage without losing a cent from its pocket thanks to a federal subsidy in the early twentieth century. Since the 1950s, Coca-Cola built partnerships with the government and industry giants, both producers and distributors, to generate the commodity surplus of raw inputs including sugar and coca leaves for its production. The company also received financial support from the federal government and international agencies to expand their bottling system all over the world.

By the mid-twentieth century, Coca-Cola was leading the world’s consumption of sugar, processed caffeine, aluminum cans, and plastic containers.[3] The company helped to contribute an enormous amount of aluminum cans and plastic bottles to landfills, which ultimately polluted underground freshwater in America. Coca-Cola’s mass production methods and use of high-fructose corn syrup required an intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides on monocrop fields for corn production. Moreover, the Coca-Cola Company released tons of waste into waterways and natural habitats, which imposed the environmental externalities of soda production onto society.

Towards the 1980s and 1990s, the production of Coca-Cola experienced some downfall due to the depletion of natural capital. In addition, public criticism towards the company’s footprint made the company decide to promote sustainability. The company started to partner with environmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy. Prior to its commitment to corporate sustainability, Coca-Cola’s environmental history exemplified why conservationists should help corporations change the economic model and encourage proactive solutions to mitigate environmental crises.

[1] Elmore, Bartow J. “Citizen Coke: An Environmental and Political History of the Coca-Cola Company”. Business History Conference. 2013: doi:10.1093/es/kht085.

[2] “The Chronicle of Coca-Cola: Birth of a Freshing Idea”, The Coca-Cola Company, last modified Jan 1, 2012,

[3] Ibid, p718.

TNC and The Coca-Cola partnership

When The Coca-Cola Company began to envision potential long-term impacts of water scarcity and poor quality on their production in 2004, its executives revised their business strategy for sustainable growth by taking into account water stewardship.[1]   In an interview on June 19, 2012 with Jeff Seabright, a former Vice President of Coca Cola’s Environment and Water Resources Division, he emphasized Coca-Cola’s 2007 commitment to sustainability as a key to balance short-term and long-term management.[2] The leaders of Coca-Cola acknowledged the vital role of collaboration with other stakeholders, including communities, institutions, governments, and organizations in achieving their goals of sustainable water use and conservation. Among those partnerships, Coca-Cola started working with TNC in 2007 to gain a better understanding of the positive impacts and effectiveness of water conservation activities. By quantifying the benefits of Coca-Cola’s investment in community watershed partnership (CWP) projects, TNC helped the company design and develop future conservation projects.

The Conservancy assisted Coca-Cola in measuring the amount of water coming from water conservation projects in which Coca-Cola participated. In addition, experts from TNC evaluated water-related risks and vulnerabilities of their current and future business interests. Since Coca-Cola realized increasing water scarcity could impact production costs, involvement in conservation became a profit motive for the company. TNC’s technical tools offered Coca-Cola a better understanding of the health of the watersheds that Coca-Cola relied on and their cooperation with suppliers, governments, and stakeholders.8

In return, Coca-Cola contributed financial support to TNC’s watershed restoration activities. The company donated approximately two million dollars for at least nine freshwater replenishment projects that TNC was developing.[3] These projects took place from 2009 to 2012 in many large watersheds across many states, including the Etowah and Flint Rivers in Georgia, Michigan’s Paw Paw River, the Trinity and Brazoes River Watersheds in Texas, the Everglades Headwaters in Florida, and the Sacramento River Watershed in California.10 The partnership with Coca-Cola enhanced TNC’s efforts in informing policy initiatives and working with farmers and landowners on the best watershed management practices.

[1] “The Water Stewardship and Replenish Report”. The Nature Conservancy and The Coca-Cola Company. January 2011.

[2] “Importance of Corporate Sustainability – The Coca-Cola Company.” The Nature Conservancy.  Accessed by March 6, 2016.

[3] Limno Tech. “Quantifying Watershed Restoration Benefits in Community Water Partnership Projects”. January 25, 2010:


Results of TNC- Coca-Cola collaboration

Coca-Cola’s sustainability program proposed to increase water efficiency during operation by 20 percent from 2004 to 2012, recycle water use at a level that supports aquatic life by the end of 2010, and offset the amount of water used in its production process by 2020.[1] To replenish the volume of water Coca-Cola has been using for finished beverages, their CWP projects embraced activities to increase water access and water filtration. In the first report of their partnership in 2011, TNC estimated that from 2008 to 2013, 320 CWP projects increased the water volume brought back for communities from 10 percent to nearly 40 percent of its production. [2] Coca-Cola succeeded in replenishing 42.8 billion liters of water, equal to 31 percent of the water used in the finished beverages, to communities and nature.[3] The outcomes reflected Coca-Cola’s efforts in providing local communities with access to water and sanitation, protecting watersheds, and increasing education and awareness. When Coca-Cola began to protect water resources, all three stakeholders including the Coca-Cola Company, local communities, and the environment could sustainably thrive together.

By pointing out the gains of Coca-Cola’s investment in preserving its natural capital, TNC was able to raise donations from the company for the establishment of watershed restoration projects in other places across the states. TNC restored natural habitat and replanted vegetation to reduce erosion and enhance the flow of groundwater in several watersheds, such as Etowah River, Flint River, Trinity River, and Paw Paw River, with 100 percent of Coca-Cola contribution.[4] Because TNC applied innovative natural-based solutions to water conservation, the contribution of Coca-Cola reinforces their social responsibility to nature.

Brian Richter, TNC Freshwater Program Co-Director, said that “More important than the numbers associated with a water footprint are the impacts of water use. When properly managed, even large volumes of water use can be sustainable in locations where the resource is sufficient to support the use and sustain ecological health.”[5] Richter affirmed the positive outcome of the partnership with Coca-Cola and the necessity of sustainable management of water resources. As open-access natural resources are often taken for granted, costs of overexploiting and benefits of conserving these resources (like freshwater) are often underestimated and overlooked by corporations. The measurement of water conservation benefits and the water footprint created incentives for Coca-Cola’s commitment to long-term sustainability and social responsibility.

[1] “The Water Stewardship and Replenish Report”. The Nature Conservancy and The Coca-Cola Company. January 2011.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Limno Tech. “Quantifying Watershed Restoration Benefits in Community Water Partnership Projects”. January 25, 2010:

[5] See note 1.