Tuesday, October 10, 2006

DuPont Announces "2015 Sustainability Goals"

I was invited to the webcast of DuPont's announcement of its "2015 Sustainability Goals" today, but couldn't make it because of work. After reading the Houston Post's overview of the commitments the company made for the next nine years, I've got to admit that, on the surface, I'm impressed. While these goals don't look as concrete as Wal-Mart's in terms of environmental impact, DuPont has promised to generate a fairly significant portion of its revenue in the near future from the sale and development of "environmentally smart products:

The Wilmington-based chemical company said it expects to derive additional revenue of $6 billion or more by 2015 from its new sustainable growth strategy.

A key component of the expanded sustainability effort is doubling the funding for research and development of "environmentally smart" technologies and products to $800 million, said DuPont chief executive Charles Holliday Jr.

The company also plans to increase annual revenue from products that improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by $2 billion, and to double annual revenue from non-depletable resources such as biofuels to at least $8 billion by 2015.

A fourth marketplace goal is to introduce at least 1,000 new safety products or services by 2015, Holliday told representatives of the business, environmental and scientific communities at a gathering in Washington, D.C.

"What we're talking about today is very much going where the growth is," he said. "We see sustainable growth as the biggest market opportunity on the horizon for the next two or three decades."

It's easy to equate "chemical company" with "environmental degradation," and this kind of announcement with greenwash, but DuPont has made strides in recent years to address its heavy environmental footprint. According to the Post, the company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% since 1990, and its discharge of carcinogenic air pollutants by 90%. Any way you slice them, these are impressive numbers.

Joel Makower has a better sense of the big picture on this one, and shares thoughts on DuPont's ten-year effort to do business and create products more sustainably, as well as some of the environmental and public health issues it still faces, especially with its Teflon coating. The first comment on Joel's post comes from Sanford Lewis of DuPont Shareholders for Fair Value, and he's critical of the company's announcement. It looks to me like the company's making measurable commitments, and I think that's key -- the question here might be whether those measurements (particularly revenue projections) are as meaningful as the company claims. Let the debates begin... this is an important one!

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