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Dow and Nature Conservancy launch policy collaboration effort

By Mark Bashore, WKAR


For about 10 years, an unusual relationship has been developing between one of the world's largest chemical companies and a national environmental group. Midland-based Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy have been cooperating on select conservation projects from the U.S. to South America. Now, through a $10 million grant from its foundation, Dow will have access to Conservancy scientists who will offer input on how future Dow operations could impact the environment. WKAR's Mark Bashore spoke with the Nature Conservancy's Michigan Director Helen Taylor, who gave an example of the kind of results that could come from the initiative.

HELEN TAYLOR: "Well a simple example might be if you were a corporation based in the Gulf, and you were right on the shore, you would understandably have concerns about hurricane impacts, etc. And it would be understandable to be engineering responses to that, and manmade ways to protect your facility. When in fact, if there's a recognition and translation of understanding (of) the value of the oyster reefs and their ability to protect the coastal areas, it might in fact be a better business decision to invest in the restoration of those oyster reefs as a response to protecting that facility. So that's a simple example. A more complex one might be the use of water. And watershed systems, river systems, have a limit to what can be used. And understanding the limits of what nature can provide and the services nature provides can inform the size, scale and use of a corporation of a natural resource like water. And So we want to define those limits so that they can make business decisions within those limits. And then protect that resource for the long term, both for the company, but (also) for human society and human prosperity."

MARK BASHORE: "Aren't there always going to be circumstances or projects where--for companies like Dow and many others--the profit motive clearly outweighs environmental considerations?"

TAYLOR: "Well, I think that's probably a good question for Dow, but let me tell you what they shared when we announced this partnership .is that if you're a corporation that's looking into the future and you want to be a strong entity a hundred years out, you don't look at just short term gain. You're really looking at what are the natural resources that we're going need and depend on a hundred years from now?' And if we want to be in business and actually be a strong presence and a market share of our business arena, then you're going to make these decisions differently. And so at the announcement, Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow, made several remarks about that long-term view."

BASHORE: "Dow is, regrettably, known especially in Michigan for contaminating many miles of the Saginaw River watershed with dioxin and other chemicals for decades in the past. A skeptic might ask whether the money used for this venture, however commendable the aim, might be more appropriately spent compensating the people impacted by the dioxin or at least moving forward on that in some way since it's still unresolved. Does the Nature Conservancy have a take on that issue?"

TAYLOR: "The Nature Conservancy has not had any connection or involvement in the issues that you're describing in the Saginaw Bay watershed. So this really has nothing, this partnership that's been announced has nothing to do with mitigating past actions or anything in the past. This is a going forward' opportunity to translate nature into terms (so) that the business can make better decisions in the future. The Nature Conservancy has had no connection or involvement historically in their issues at the Titabawassee and this partnership is really not connected to that."

BASHORE: "Your organization's taken some heat over other connections with industrial corporations, British Petroleum for one. Your leadership says it's necessary to engage these companies, even the one largely responsible for the Deepwater Horizon spill. Why exactly is that kind of engagement necessary?"

TAYLOR: "I would say we can't afford not to work with companies. Their impact on the planet is just too great to ignore and if we want to improve their practices and help assure the long-term health of natural resources that we all depend on, we have to find a way to collaborate with them and work together to create the tools to make better decisions. So for decades, the Nature Conservancy has recognized that that is a valuable strategy. Our increased engagement with companies is not a shift, it really reflects an evolving emphasis."

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