Embracing Responsibility

Features - General Business

The Dow Chemical Co.'s sustainability program extends to electronics used throughout the company.

October 21, 2011

The Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., is a leader in the areas of specialty chemicals, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics. The company reported annual sales of $53.7 billion in 2010 and employed approximately 50,000 people worldwide. Its 5,000-plus products are manufactured at 188 sites in 35 countries across the globe.

While Dow's success in these areas is well-known, its sustainability efforts may be less familiar to people who regularly encounter the company's products.

Dow claims it "connects chemistry and innovation with the principles of sustainability to help address many of the world's most challenging problems, such as the need for clean water, renewable energy generation and conservation and increasing agricultural productivity." According to its website, www.dow.com, Dow believes "that taking the extra step to be socially responsible does not hold us back, but instead sets us apart."

In September of this year, the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index rated Dow as one of the top performers in the global chemical industry for the 11th time since the index was launched.

In addition to improving its rating from last year, Dow achieved the highest score in the sector for corporate governance. Dow's overall score was 87 percent, 30 percentage points higher than the average for the industry group.

Dow's 2015 sustainability goals (www.dow.com/sustainability) include sustainable chemistry goals, targets that address climate change and energy, reducing its footprint and protecting human health and the environment. (Dow's annual and quarterly Sustainability Reports can be found at www.dow.com/sustainability/pbreports.)

As part of its sustainability effort, Dow has developed an electronics recycling program. George Shofoluwe, Dow global disposition and investment recovery leader, purchasing, tells Recycling Today more about this program in the Q&A that follows.

Recycling Today (RT): How did Dow handle the disposition of the company's IT assets before 2009?

George Shofoluwe (GS): Dow is committed to maintaining an infrastructure that has a positive impact on our company and our communities. Our operations are a model for others, wherever we operate.

Dow makes every effort to make the best use of its assets and resources (www.dow.com/sustainability/commitments/history.htm) and did so even before we articulated our 2005 goals in 1996 and our 2015 sustainability goals in 2005. Through the years, we have become more and more disciplined in our approach and our ability to track progress, as shown by our IT recycling efforts.

Initial efforts to collect and re-use IT assets centered on making them available for re-use by selling them in auctions to employees or other businesses on a local basis. In 2006, we contracted with a company that helped with collecting, itemizing, selling, recycling and disposing of IT equipment—a good first step in improved discipline. We have since improved our ability to track and report on these efforts.

RT: What prompted Dow to begin its electronics recycling pilot in 2009?

GS: Unlocking opportunities to minimize waste is the right thing to do … plus it increases our efficiency and makes good business sense. Dow constantly looks for ways to reduce waste and, through Dow's purchasing organization, has undertaken significant investment recovery efforts for equipment and maintenance supplies. It was a natural extension to add recovery efforts around electronic equipment. Currently Dow recycles CPUs, CRTs, LCDs, notebook computers, phones and other equipment that is electronic in nature and not included in our leasing agreements with equipment providers.

In 2009, we took this effort to the next level by designing an agreement with a new contractor in North America that elevated tracking and reporting capabilities for our electronics recycling efforts. Based on the success of this agreement, we plan to phase in this disciplined approach to electronics recycling globally.

RT: Please tell me more about your pilot program for electronics recycling. What was the scope and duration of the program? How much material has been recycled as a result of the program?

GS: Responsible disposal of electronic devices has obvious benefits to the environment, but here is more concrete evidence: Since the start of this program in mid-2009, Dow has kept more than 363 tons of "e-waste" out of the solid waste stream. By doing so, the company also has prevented the potential leaking of toxic substances in landfills and preserved natural resources, such as precious metals, which can be re-used to make new electronics.

This impact was generated in North America alone, where devices such as those listed above are collected at large sites, itemized and assessed for the best disposition (favoring asset re-use/recycling approaches, with a last choice of disposal). Selecting and collaborating with a high-quality, knowledgeable supplier has a big impact on Dow's effectiveness in implementing, tracking and reporting against our sustainability goals. We meet regularly with our new supplier to discuss progress, issues, decision-making/management criteria and contract performance.

Re-use and recycling are always preferred to disposal, not only due to the positive environmental and financial impact but also because this drives innovation in recycling technologies. These efforts supplement what we do globally in large volumes with respect to recycling metal and mechanical equipment and parts. At Dow we believe cradle-to-grave asset management is the right thing to do.

RT: Going forward, how will Dow handle the disposition of its internal IT assets and devices from employees?

GS: The existing NA (North American) program will be the model for phasing in a systematic, disciplined electronics recycling globally for Dow. We wanted to establish a successful program before scaling it globally, so we selected 20 NA sites for initial implementation. Our plan is to expand to all Dow sites in NA by year end 2011. We have an existing global site contact list for investment recovery in other categories, like decommissioned mechanical equipment, metal parts, structures, facilities, etc. We are building a similar global network for electronic materials recovery. Those global contacts will work to evaluate and engage, as appropriate, regional and local electronic recovery suppliers. Through this NA pilot program, we are developing best practices through collaborative efforts within purchasing and IT that will serve as a model we can leverage in other regions.

RT: How did Dow select the recycler or recyclers it uses? What criteria does the company find most important in a potential recycler?

GS: Because our efforts will eventually be extended globally, we will be using multiple recycling suppliers around the world to achieve our goals. Advancing sustainability on all fronts requires open collaboration with communities, civil society, governments, customers and suppliers. Choosing the right partners is vital to the success of electronics recycling.

At the onset of the NA pilot, Dow's purchasing organization researched numerous electronic recyclers as potential suppliers. Once the field was narrowed to six companies, a comprehensive assessment process was used to select the contractor. Prospective contractors were evaluated under the following criteria (among others):

  1. Re-use/recycle reputation and track record of employing the best environmental practices, compliance with all regulatory standards and safe environmental disposal procedures;
  2. Tracking capabilities and protocol, with the ability to prove that equipment was handled in the manner specified and in compliance with corporate and regulatory standards (recycling, re-use and disposal details that support legal requirements); and
  3. Cost of services that are competitive and reasonable (cost avoidance that supports our commitment to sustainable practices).

RT: When did Dow first begin setting sustainability goals?

Neil Hawkins (NH): In 1995, Dow set important public sustainability goals that focused on environment, health and safety. In 2005, Dow set the bar even higher with the introduction of a more ambitious, next-generation set of goals. These 2015 sustainability goals focus include efforts beyond Dow's own walls, committing Dow to creating stronger relationships within the communities in which it operates, improving product stewardship and accelerating innovation to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, as well as reducing its global footprint. The goals are centered around the company's expertise in sustainable chemistry and include metrics for energy efficiency, climate change, breakthroughs to world challenges, product safety leadership, local protection of human health and the environment and contributing to community success.

RT: How does recycling figure in to Dow's overall sustainability goals? How much material has the company diverted from the landfill since introducing sustainability goals? How has this affected Dow's bottom line?

NH: The electronics recycling program is a part of Dow's commitment to responsible operations. Dow implemented the program as a way to encourage employees to recycle all types of unwanted information technology assets, including personal computers, monitors, printers, mobile devices and network equipment.

Recycling is a direct part of our sustainable chemistry approach, whether that involves recycling water, paper, plastic or other materials. All sustainable solutions involve some form of chemistry along the way to make them possible. Once a molecule or material has been made, keeping it "in play" is often the most sustainable approach to managing waste. So Dow technology and know-how can be a big enabler of the necessary behaviors. The company's electronics recycling program continues to grow across the globe and is just one example of many recycling efforts that align with Dow's 2015 sustainability goals.

A company like Dow that is a leader in looking for sustainable solutions must partner and collaborate with suppliers to develop capabilities sufficient to meet our needs. That takes strong supplier commitment and yet offers the potential for greater growth for the supplier with enhanced capabilities. That is indeed the case with the e-recycling effort, especially as we look to phase it in globally. We need capable, trustworthy and cost-effective suppliers throughout the globe, and we also want recycling capabilities to grow globally with healthy competition in every region.

RT: What other waste reduction efforts is Dow engaged in? What tangible effects has the company seen as a result?

GS: The Dow Chemical Co. and the Arnold Center Inc. (www.arnoldcenter.org), a company dedicated to connecting people living with disabilities to meaningful jobs within the community, are working together to recycle more than 1 million pounds of paper annually collected from Dow sites in mid-Michigan through a program called WeCycle. Items recycled through the program include sticky notes, brochures, business cards, colored and white paper, envelopes, magazines, file folders, newspapers, papers with clips, rubber bands and/or staples, ring and spiral binders with paper inside, telephone books, fax paper, and catalogs. By recycling these items, Dow has been able to save approximately $2,500 a month in avoided supply costs at our Midland headquarters. We have also experienced how innovative solutions to reduce water and energy waste at our sites can deliver tremendous economic, social and environmental value.

Dow's Waste Reduction Always Pays (WRAP) program was launched 25 years ago and directly supports the sustainability guiding principle of eco-efficiency. A WRAP Award program was established to recognize individuals who find innovative ways to save money while reducing waste or emissions at Dow. Waste reduction includes waste avoidance, source reduction, Greenhouse gas emissions reduction, material re-use and/or recycles, by-product synergy and energy conservation.

And as mentioned before, purchasing is actively involved in global investment recovery, looking at how best to recycle, re-use and manage effective, sustainable disposition of equipment, parts and structures that have been decommissioned or removed from service. Our investment recovery group's disciplined approach is just another way in which we continuously strive to reduce our operational footprint.

Neil Hawkins is vice president of sustainability and EH&S for the Dow Chemical Co., based in Midland, Mich., and George Shofoluwe is the company's global disposition and investment recovery leader, purchasing. More information on Dow is available at www.dow.com.