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7 Steps to Make Sustainability “Business as Usual” for Every Employee

by Mary Draves, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer The Dow Chemical Company

Published 03-11-20

Submitted by DOW

Sustainability is more than an important ambition at Dow. It is key to how we apply science to drive top-line growth, improve our operations, engage employees and help innovate for our customers. In short, it’s an important part of our strategy for long-term success.

Bringing sustainability to the center of what we do and why we do it helps it become business as usual. The more that employees use a sustainability lens to make decisions, the more that new sustainable innovations and business models take root. But how do we get to a place where all employees see sustainability as part of their jobs?

No doubt, it’s a big challenge. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. However, we believe that engaging our employees in sustainability will not only grow our impact and competitive advantage – it will make for more satisfied, involved employees, too. Multiple studies have shown employees want to work for a purpose and that engaging in a company’s sustainability work enhances job satisfaction and overall feelings for the company.

That’s why we’re working hard to take steps to engage employees in our sustainability agenda and empower them to help drive positive change. Here are seven ways that we're driving employee engagement around our 2025 Sustainability Goals:

Building knowledge and capabilities: Educating employees and developing the next generation of sustainability leaders within our Company is critical to advancing our goals. Since 2017, our Dow Sustainability Academy has provided hundreds of employees with the hands-on experience they need to bring sustainability business insights into their jobs. In partnership with the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute, employees spend an immersive four days on the University of Michigan campus learning the fundamentals of sustainability. They then work on a six-month team project aligned to our 2025 Sustainability Goals. In addition, every employee has the opportunity to join our Sustainability Network, which gathers Dow people together globally and regionally for training or awareness-building activities.

Encouraging an owner’s mindset: Just like safety, we want all employees to own sustainability and see it as part of their jobs. That’s why for the first time in 2020, we’re tying employees’ variable compensation to environmental, social and governance metrics that include an annual target around our “World-Leading Operations Performance” 2025 Sustainability Goal. This way, sustainability performance is rewarded and recognized.

Integrating sustainability into business plans and R&D decision-making framework: To build sustainability into our existing business processes, we’re asking our business units to draft their own sustainability plans in alignment with our 2025 Sustainability Goals. This helps each business and their employees to drive innovations that support customers’ sustainability needs and enhance our top-line revenue growth. For example, the Packaging and Specialty Plastics business has collaborated with partners across the globe to make durable polymer-modified asphalt roads from recycled plastics – earning Dow a spot on Fortune’s 2019 “Change the World” list. Meanwhile, our Industrial Solutions business has worked alongside customers to innovate the award-winning ECOFAST™ Pure Sustainable Textile Treatment, which reduces the environmental impact of dyeing cotton fabric and meets the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals’ Roadmap to Zero Programme standards.

Rewarding innovation and ideas that drive value: We’ve established the annual #DOW2025 Awards to celebrate innovative projects that contribute both business and sustainability benefits to Dow. Together, the projects demonstrate the significant impact that can be made when teams integrate sustainability into their everyday business thinking. Winning projects have included our Dow-International Olympic Committee Official Carbon Partnership and remediation projects that incorporate nature-based solutions at our sites.

Providing opportunities for employees to create sustainable collaborations and get involved: Encouraging fresh ideas and volunteer engagement is helping our employees increase the impact of our sustainability activities in our communities. Through our Business Impact Fund, employees are invited to submit ideas that leverage our technology and expertise to support collaborative sustainability projects that promote relevant, long-term community change. Recent projects include Project Butterfly in Africa, in which Dow people helped to improve waste management and boost economic opportunities by funding “wastentreprenuers.” Globally, thousands of Dow people also have participated in a cleanup effort called #PullingOurWeight, which brings together employees, partners, customers and local organizations to not only clean up local waterways but educate them firsthand on the importance of proper waste disposal and recycling.

Involving external stakeholders and sharing our progress: Global challenges such as climate change and ocean waste are big, multifaceted issues that will require collaboration from a variety of stakeholders to help solve. That’s why we find value in building collaborative networks and sharing our knowledge to drive systematic change. In addition to regularly reporting progress on our sustainability targets, we also are taking the lead on industry-wide efforts such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a non-profit global initiative focused on developing waste disposal infrastructure and driving a closed-loop economy for plastics. By communicating our progress and focusing on efforts that bring shared value to our communities, sustainability becomes a point of pride among employees.

Unleash your people and support grassroots efforts: Over the last few years, a number of groups have come together to create communities of practice around sustainability topics that are important to them. For example, there’s a communications community of practice in which global communicators from business, function and geography meet to share best practices, leverage sustainability programs and increase sustainability acumen. Or, the Recycling community of practice, which offers a platform for open dialogue with the intent of bringing together those looking to leverage ideas for their site/facility.

 Most of us want to do work that is fulfilling and makes a difference. By integrating sustainability across our business and providing multiple outlets for employees to channel their passion and purpose through their work, we can help employees turn from bystanders into agents of positive change. That’s not only good for our employees and business, it’s good for our communities and planet, too!

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