Coalitions and collaborations are critical to achieve rapid and sustainable environmental progress. An ability to partner up and down the value chain is accelerating Dow’s own sustainability journey.
“One thing we have learned is that the sustainability challenge is too big for any one company to solve,” says Han Zhang, Asia-Pacific sustainability director for packaging and speciality plastics at Dow. “We are a large company that has been working on these issues for 20 years and we know we cannot solve them alone. We need to partner with others, including NGOs, government agencies and even competitors.”
“It is easier today to see how the product you recycle has a value, and you have more business models that show how that could happen,” says Kaj Embrén, a Swedish sustainability coach. “That’s why you need to think outside of the box, and to engage with different actors than you would normally do business with.”
Dow has also lent its backing to global platforms that bring together major companies in a systematic way at scale. This includes its role as a founding backer of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, an international consortium that has committed an initial US$1bn to back projects that reduce plastic leakage and waste, especially in vulnerable geographies and the oceans. Ventures include waste-collection infrastructure, scaling up technologies that facilitate recycling and recovery of plastics, education and outreach to mobilise government, business and community engagement, and clean-up efforts in significant waste conduits, such as polluted rivers that are carrying plastics into the ocean. Dow is also a backer, along with LyondellBasell and NOVA Chemicals, of the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund, a new initiative aiming to deploy US$100m to projects in the US and Canada that improve recycling logistics, equipment and infrastructure.
“Our work was too new for the conventional financing and investment community to back,” says Steve Mahon, chief executive officer of UK-based Mura Technology, which pioneered a new chemical process that turns waste plastic back into “virgin-equivalent” chemicals and oils, thereby reducing waste and lowering demand for new fossil fuel-based resources in the chemicals industry. “It is really the people in the industry who could understand what we were doing, who could ask the difficult and sensible questions.”
Mura, with investment from Dow, is now building its first plant in Teesside, UK, to roll out Mura’s innovation, with the 20,000-tonnes/year facility expected to become operational in 2022. Eventually, the company expects to recycle up to 80,000 tonnes/year of waste, which Dow plans to use as virgin-grade plastics for packing products.1
“We educated the villagers on how to do proper waste management and how to segregate waste, and we worked with Professor Abidin to develop technology like composting to reduce waste and bring value back to local communities,” says Mr Zhang.