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 https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/dow-chemical-company-settlement

[4] Cohen, Andrew. “A September 11th Catastrophe You’ve Probably Never Heard About”. The Atlantic.com. Sep 10, 2012. Accessed by May 11, 2016: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/a-september-11th-catastrophe-youve-probably-never-heard-about/261959/

[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 http://www.dow.com/en-us/science-and-sustainability/sustainability-reporting/footprint-handprint-blueprint

[2] The Nature Conservancy. “Working with Companies: Dow Announces Business Strategy for Conservation.” http://www.nature.org/about-us/working-with-companies/explore/dow-announces-business-strategy-for-conservation.xml

[3] The Nature Conservancy and The Dow Chemical Company. “2015: A Year in Review – Working Together to Value Nature”.  February 2016. http://www.nature.org/about-us/working-with-companies/companies-we-work-with/dow/2015-year-in-review.pdf

[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. http://www.nature.org/about-us/working-with-companies/companies-we-work-with/dow/understanding-dows-nature-goal.xml

[7] See note 2

[8] “Importance of Corporate Sustainability – The Dow Chemical Company”, The Nature Conservancy, accessed by March 6, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/embed/zDHU6tp6CCY

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. http://www.nature.org/about-us/working-with-companies/companies-we-work-with/dow/understanding-dows-nature-goal.xml

[2] Ibid

[3] The Nature Conservancy and The Dow Chemical Company. “2015: A Year in Review – Working Together to Value Nature”.  February 2016. http://www.nature.org/about-us/working-with-companies/companies-we-work-with/dow/2015-year-in-review.pdf