Chemical Industry Can Be A Driver Of Sustainable Change

Indian Chemical Council - Chemical News

May 2016

Chemical Industry Can Be A Driver Of Sustainable ChangeThe chemical industry is facing several challenges in the volatile and globalised world in which it presently operates, and arguably nothing is as vital as ensuring a sustainable future for itself.

According to Mr. Neil Hawkins, Chief Sustainability Officer, the Dow Chemical Company, while the need for global sustainability has never been greater and the challenge is having a direct impact on the chemical industry, it also represents an opportunity for the industry.

[Following are the extracts from the Key-note Address delivered by Mr. Neil Hawkins.]

“I find the topic of the ICC Conference ‘Living in a Volatile World’ very interesting. I think given the recent developments in the world, we all realize that volatility is no longer a passing phase – it is indeed the new normal today. From global issues like volatile oil prices and wavering economic recovery to on-ground local issues – I hear we are facing water shortage in the state of Maharashtra right now – each of these sustainability challenges have a direct effect on chemical industry.”


“If we are to dig a little deeper on what really causes much of this volatility today, you will find need for global sustainability at the core of it. The intensifying challenge of keeping the world going as it is today aside, moving the planet and its people into a truly sustainable system is growing ever more difficult. According to the United Nations, global population will grow to over nine billion people by 2050 – increasing global demand for healthy food, clean water, sanitation, shelter, mobility, education and healthcare. More specifically, by the time children born today enter their teens, the world will need 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water, while also mitigating and adapting to climate change.

These patterns translate to the key sustainability trends for the chemical industry. Society must begin preparing today for a future that will present these unprecedented global challenges. At the same time, these challenges are also opportunities – to discover and create solutions that allow us to do more with less, to create societal value, to prosper, to advance the human condition, and to define a path towards a sustainable society and planet. To build a better world, we all must change the way we live, work and play. Businesses need to do what they do best: innovate, adapt and collaborate. I believe that industry itself can be a driver of sustainable change. However, no single company – not even one of Dow’s size – can enact change of this scale on its own. Rather than relying on public policy or technology alone, businesses have the responsibility and ability to collaborate to lead and help usher in a new way of doing things for the benefit of us all. This is where, I think, industry bodies like ICC and all of you, who are its members and stakeholders, can make a huge difference. As the Chief Sustainability Officer of Dow, I’m here to make an earnest appeal – together, as peers and partners, we can help drive the sustainability agenda and enable the government of India to work in partnership with industry to create a conducive environment to keep sustainability on the table. We must understand and imbibe the fact that Sustainability cannot be a separate pillar of strategy; it is the business strategy. I want you to really think over this and know this sentence is more relevant today than ever.”


“Moving forward on this perspective, I would like to share some trends that I believe will drive business growth in the next century:

  1. The demand for continuous improvements in efficiency, environment, health, and safety. This is the foundation for sustainability in our industry. We must be the most efficient users of raw materials and energy, and never lose focus on continuously improving our safety, health, and environmental performance.
  2. The need for our industry to deliver science-based breakthrough product innovations that advance the well-being of people, addressing the opportunities presented by climate change, energy, food, water, social issues, and ecosystems. We need to be a solution provider not just in science terms, but in societal terms. This will involve helping society to have increasing confidence in the safe use of chemical technology, which will only come as we increase transparency, and collaborate across society in meaningful dialogues that can address people’s concerns and needs.
  3. The need for society to value nature, healthy ecosystems, and ecosystem services. We are often undervaluing water, air quality, pollination, fish supplies, and healthy forests in our business decisions today, and ecosystem health is declining globally in most of these areas. This will create the imperative for our industry to Value Nature in everyday business decision making. At Dow, we have set a goal to deliver $1 billion in net present value over the next 10 years through projects that are good for business and good for ecosystems.
  4. The need for society to increasingly move from a linear economy to a circular economy. Much of our economy today is linear – we take something from the earth, make a product, use the product, and then dispose of the product. A circular economy finds more effective ways to keep the molecules in play as long as possible in a circular path. Although the idea of re-using resources is not new, it is now a necessity to increase the re-use of our precious natural resources. Our industry has the opportunity to take a leading role in driving the development and implementation of new technologies to drive the principles of the circular economy.

Meeting these challenges of the 21st century can occur only with collaboration of broad stakeholders. The health of people, planet and business are intrinsically linked. Collaboration in new deeper ways across the public and private sectors is essential for the transition to a sustainable planet and society.

As leaders in the chemical industry, we have the opportunity to provide solutions and collaborate to provide blueprints for the industry to adopt principles of the circular economy. Through our scientific and business leadership we have the opportunity to do this is a way that benefits the environment and society and business.”


“Sustainability can no longer be a side-effort and must be integrated into corporate strategy. Influencing public policy and changing value chains will be a key driver in moving toward a sustainable planet and society. This is especially true as we continue to innovate at the intersection of all the sciences, and collaborate at the intersection of business, government, and society as a provider of solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

We have the opportunity to shape what humanity will look like decades from now—a responsibility that belongs to every one of us. These blueprints can support a global strategy for a sustainable planet – bringing together businesses, non-profit organizations, governments and academic institutions to challenge current sustainability paradigms and reimagine our respective roles.

As leaders in the chemical industry, we are privileged to have the opportunity to influence the future of humanity. Right now, India is globally one of the few bright spots in terms of GDP growth and development – as the economy grows, so does infrastructure and standard of living and that entails a bright future for Indian chemical industry. This only increases our responsibility as stakeholders – we must understand that business must evolve in order to remain viable and competitive. Therefore, the next steps in our journey should be taken not only because they are the right thing to do, but also because we understand that companies who operate under a business-as-usual paradigm this century may not survive long enough to experience the next.

I understand that the Government of India is currently working on a National Chemical Policy for the country. Initiatives like these will have a far-reaching impact on the future of Indian industry and that is why sustainability MUST be woven into the fabric of these policies – not only because it will advance the well-being of humanity, but it also makes sound business sense and therefore, it should be our chosen path for tomorrow’s success. We look forward to a world in 2025 that has a more sustainable outlook than we currently face and where the chemical industry has proven to be a force for positive change.

Chemistry is the world’s indispensable toolbox, and we have the key to unlock its full potential for society’s benefit.”