A collaboration between The Dow Chemical Company and The Nature Conservancy has proven that sometimes strange bedfellows can be prolific partners. The odd pair won the Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility Award at the 2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Orlando, Florida, for creating an environmental protection framework with a methodology for identifying and measuring (or valuing) tangible benefits of ecosystem services to integrate into corporate decision-making processes.
Conceived in 2010, the unusual $10 million alliance between the major company and renowned conservation nonprofit involved significant funding for scientists to design a practical application of ecosystem services valuation in the business context. The result is a viable plan for significant change in corporate practice that can be used as a sustainable model.
“Bringing together TNC scientists and Dow engineers has generated new ideas that neither company would have come up with on its own,” explains the project manager, Beth Uhlhorn, of the unique partnering value. “More broadly, the structure of the collaboration is also something that can be applied at other companies.”
The partnership is also developing an Ecosystem Services Identification and Inventory tool (ESII, pronounced “easy”) to help companies roughly estimate the business value from nature on and abutting their site, as well as the public value from on-site lands. “As ecosystems degrade, nature is critical to the bottom line,” says Jim South, Dow collaboration lead for The Nature Conservancy, about the unique collaboration. “This collaboration has allowed us to work with one of the world’s largest companies to see how to incorporate nature’s value into business decisions.”
“For decades, The Nature Conservancy has recognized that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing our conservation mission,” he adds about their purpose in the partnership. “Businesses around the globe, such as Dow, can and do have significant impacts on the lands and waters that people and nature rely upon for survival. If we fail to engage the private sector as they seek to become more environmentally sustainable is to miss an opportunity to create substantial conservation gains around the world.”
Dow approached TNC in 2010 as part of its decade-long 2015 Sustainability Goals, which focus on biodiversity and ecosystem services where the “natural” infrastructure is considered alongside traditional counterparts in business operations. Its goals are more than a philanthropic gesture—the company considers it a long-term philosophical shift. More recently, the Dow/TNC collaboration contributed to Dow’s “Valuing Nature” goal as part of its 2025 Sustainability Goals: The company has committed to screen all capital, real estate, and R&D projects for their impact on nature and to identify $1 billion in value (measured by NVP) associated with projects that are good for the company and ecosystems by 2025.
“We realized we were chronically undervaluing critical ecosystem services, and therefore not making the best business decisions possible—particularly where utilizing ecosystem services would provide a cost benefit or other advantage over conventional means,” Uhlhorn says.
For example, before the Dow/TNC partnership, Dow constructed a wetland to treat wastewater at the Dow Seadrift Operations facility in Texas instead of a traditional wastewater treatment plant. The wetlands resulted in a $39 million savings in initial capital investment, as well as more than $200 million of NPV benefit over the traditional solution.
Much of the work in the collaboration has been site-specific research, but with the release of Dow’s Nature Goal, “we hope that other companies will follow Dow’s lead in embedding the consideration of nature in decisions across their company and that we can work with them to help implement similar efforts,” South says. “Since the beginning of the collaboration, we have shared our experiences publicly so other companies, scientists, and stakeholders can test, apply, and benefit from our work.”
For more information on Dow's sustainability collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, see the annual Dow/TNC collaboration reports and joint peer-reviewed papers.