View & Thoughts

Redefining the Role of Business in Society


By Han Zhang

APAC Sustainability Director, Packaging & Specialty Plastics

The Dow Chemical Company

In April, I wrote a LinkedIn article wondering if we can go back to normal after COVID-19. Five months since Singapore implemented its ‘Circuit Breaker’ measures to fight the pandemic, it’s clear that we can’t revert to what it was. So, we all can’t help but wonder, what is the ‘new normal’, how does it look like? And specifically, how has that impacted our sustainability journey?

COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused unimaginable devastation, uncertainty, and confusion. It has created strong headwinds, infected millions and brought many economies to a near standstill. As we begin to navigate this space of ambiguity, industries and investors alike are hard-pressed to show sustainability delivers value. As a realistic optimist, I believe this offers an unprecedent opportunity to reset and reshape the world.

The chemical industry will play an increasingly vital role when we transform to a sustainable world. From green chemistry, to low carbon technologies, to circular economy, the chemical industry can accelerate the development of sustainable solutions that meet the needs of society.

For nearly 30 years, Dow has created value for environment, our customers and society by setting 10-year stretch sustainability goals. The first set of goals that was launched in 1996, focused on Dow’s ‘footprint’ – integrating environmental, social and governance issues into our businesses. The result of the 2005 Goals were incredible. We invested $1 billion into improvements to reduce energy use, wastewater, and emissions, which resulted in an overall value to the company of more than $5 billion.

In 2006, we launched our 2015 Goals, which focus not only on Dow’s footprint but also our ‘handprint’ through the positive impact of Dow products and their role in global sustainable development. Addressing global challenges like water, food, climate change, and energy, our 2015 goals resulted in significant, quantifiable returns to the company’s triple bottom line—people, planet, and profit. Four years ago, Dow further invested into sustainability with the launch of our 2025 Sustainability Goals. As we advance into our third set of 10-year sustainability goals, our sustainability journey has evolved from our footprint, to handprint, to blueprint – recognizing that only through collaboration can we accelerate our positive impact.

Sustainability promises to be the business disruptor of this decade and status quo is not an option we can accept at Dow. That’s why this year we’ve set new targets around advancing a circular economy and climate protection as society is awakening to the urgent reality of climate change and plastic waste challenges. Building on our 2025 Sustainability Goals, these targets put us on a path to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, eliminate plastic waste in our environment and increase our positive impacts on society, our customers and our business.

  • Protect the Climate – by 2030, Dow will reduce its net annual carbon emissions by 5 million metric tons versus its 2020 baseline (15% reduction). By 2050, Dow intends to be carbon neutral (Scopes 1+2+3 plus product benefits).
  • Stop the Waste – by 2030, Dow will enable 1 million metric tons of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled through its direct actions and partnerships.
  • Close the Loop – by 2035, Dow will close the loop by enabling 100% of Dow products sold into packaging applications to be reusable or recyclable.

Dow’s new sustainability targets align perfectly to what we see as our purpose - to deliver a sustainable future for the world. Achieving them will be incredibly challenging, but I’m confident we can get there with our expertise in material science, passionate employees, and committed partners.

First, we need to keep optimizing the efficiency of our operations, investing in renewable energy sources and reducing material and energy use in our production process. This year alone, we have signed four new renewable power purchase agreements which provide us with access to 338 megawatts of installed solar and wind capacity.

Second, we will ensure our products are more sustainable than alternatives by considering their lifecycle – from creation to use to disposal. Working with our partner, Dow is turning a waste residue from paper production into naphtha, creating an alternative and renewable feedstock for plastics production. This approach could reduce CO2 emissions by more than 50% when compared to standard fossil derived PE resins and the polymers produced as a result are helping packers and converters to meet their sustainability goals.

Third, we are working with our value chains to explore new business models and advance low carbon and recycling technologies and infrastructure. For example, Dow is partnering with recyclers around the globe to give plastic waste a second life.

Finally, we continue to work with organizations, such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and Circulate Capital to maximize our impact. Through these strategic partnerships, we are able to develop scalable solutions that manage plastic waste, demonstrate the viability of investment in the waste management and recycling, and catalyse additional investment from public and private sectors to advance a circular economy.

We are proud of the initiatives that Dow is undertaking to become the most sustainable materials science company in the world. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer and there are always different ways on how a business can redefine its role in society. We remain encouraged as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will be a regret if we allow it to deter us from building our sustainable future. The future is not cancelled, so let’s continue our push forward.