1999 GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY FORUM
SEPTEMBER 24-26, 1999
LIGHTLY EDITED, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT
FRIDAY EVENING, SEPTEMBER 24
Lawrence J. Washington, Jr., Vice President, Environment, Health & Safety, Human Resources and Public Affairs, The Dow Chemical Company
Good afternoon. Thank you, Susan, for that introduction. I am really pleased to be here tonight as the representative from industry at this opening ceremony. It's an honor to be included among such a distinguished group of Commissioners, state, local, and government officials, and leaders from non-government organizations. Getting a chance to follow such a distinguished group of speakers is really an honour.
One of the problems of going last is that some of the things I'll say you have heard before. Hopefully by the time I get through you'll be very tired of hearing the word partnership. As I followed Carol, I think it's just fair to mention that there is no better example probably of stakeholder partnerships than how the chemical industry is currently working with the United States Environmental Protection Agency on one particular initiative, which is the stakeholder cooperation on the high-production-volume chemical initiative. The chemical industry has committed to providing basic toxicity information on all high-production-volume chemicals, and we are working closely with the rest of the industry, and with the EPA to continue to refine the reporting parameters and the other data-based issues around this initiative.
This forum tonight is really an opportunity for us to strengthen the kinds of relationships that we see developing amongst all of our respective institutions, the relationships that are developing around the pursuit of a common goal and that goal is the elimination of pollution in the Great Lakes region and, in fact, every place else while preserving and stimulating economic prosperity.
The vision means a lot to me personally. I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and I've spent most of my 31 years with Dow in the mid-Michigan area in Midland. I really do enjoy the beauty of the state of Michigan. Part of that beauty is the Saginaw Bay watershed, which you may or may not know is the largest freshwater coastal wetland system in the United States. It's the home to waterfowl, birds and more than 90 species of fish and about 1.4 million people in the state of Michigan. Through the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative, which we call WIN, Dow has been partnering with the communities around us, conservationists, environmental activists, foundations, and business to maintain the area as a truly sustainable community, a community that is sustainable economically, environmentally, and socially.
There is another side to what's going on in the Great Lakes, and the people who live around here have experienced firsthand what happens when there is economic decline. Those of us who were here in the 70s and the 80s saw that first hand. What we are now seeing is a renewal and a revitalization of the economy in this area. We are seeing part of that through some very unique -- and here comes that word again -- partnerships. We've seen the recent mergers between Chrysler and Daimler Benz, Ford and Volvo. Groups that were once competitors now coming together to be stronger and to better serve the needs of their customers.
The 1990s are also proving to be a period of environmental renewal. At our Sarnia, Ontario plant on Lake Huron, we've reduced harmful discharges to the St. Clair River by 98% since 1989 through a project called the River Separation Project. That is also leading to economic growth. We're building the first grass-roots plant in Sarnia now in 25 years, helping to sustain jobs in that region. The point I'm trying to make is that to be truly successful and to be truly sustainable in the 21st century, we have to be focused on the economic and the environmental, and the societal needs of all the communities around us. So I was really glad to see this year's Forum emphasizing partnerships among stakeholder groups.
Another group that we formed partnerships with is the Council of Great Lakes Industries. They are dedicated to improving the economic well-being of this area. There are a lot of groups who have formed multi-stakeholder partnerships. We're not alone in that, but for a long time we've been a member of the Council of Great Lakes Industries, and among that group, we are finding ways collectively to improve environmental performance.
We've achieved a lot in the last 25 years. Just last Tuesday, the London Free Press reported that the Great Lakes are the cleanest that they've been in 50 years. They reported that based on the reports of the Canadian government recently cited. As a member of the Council of Great Lakes Industries, we're committed to working with all of our stakeholders to establish sound environmental management policies in the Great Lakes and the establishment of specific environmental goals and targets and time tables toward which companies can commit resources to voluntarily get the job done.
One such effort is the Binational Toxics Strategy between Canada and the United States, which is pioneering a multi-stakeholder voluntary effort to achieve aggressive targets for the reduction of persistent toxics that bioaccumulate. From our experience, we know that this is very difficult to do, but thanks to the perseverence of all the participants, we're beginning to make progress. To all of those involved, I want to thank you for sticking with the process. It is really worth it to the environment.
At Dow, we believe it's important to set long range aggressive goals, even when you're already doing well. So in 1995 we adopted a set of ambitious, some would say even unrealistic, environmental goals for the year 2005. For example, we said we would reduce job-related accidents and illness by 90%. We would reduce leaks, breaks, and spills by 90%, transportation accidents by 90%, chemical emissions by 50%, and emissions of priority compounds by 75%, and we would reduce our energy use by 20%, even as our global production continues to increase. As a part of those goals, we made a commitment to reduce compounds such as hexachlorobenzene and mercury, which Carol talked about by 75% by the year 2005. To date, we've reduced the emissions of those compounds by 69%, and keep in mind that was working from an already low baseline, a base of solid performance, so there wasn't a lot of wiggle room. What we find is when you put a tough goal in front of people who work for Dow, they find ways to achieve those goals. On dioxin emissions, we're on track to achieving our 2005 goal of reducing dioxin emissions from our manufacturing facilities by 90%. We know it can be done. At Dow's Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta plant, we've already achieved a 95% reduction in dioxin. We're doing that through better manufacturing practices and from implementing new control systems. We've already invested more than 250 million dollars U.S. in achieving those goals.
So you might ask yourself, What's Dow going to do after the year 2005? Well, we've been asking ourselves exactly that question. As part of the Responsible Care Program, which is the chemical industry's voluntary commitment to improve environmental health and safety performance, we're making progress toward a vision of no accidents, no injuries, and no harm to the environment. This very aggressive vision is the next logical step in the progress we've been making over the years and means greater competitiveness than ever in the global market-place. Our 2005 goals started us on the right journey and we are making progress toward no accidents, no injuries, and no environmental harm. It's the only vision that's acceptable and it's the vision that we are committed to. It's the vision that any company that wants to be a world leader, a respected company, and a contributor to society can have. It's also a vision that's very consistent with the goals of the newly enacted Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
As big government shrinks, in many parts of the world and as privatization spreads and the global market-place continues to take hold, public expectations of business will only grow. One of the public's expectations is for increased accountability or transparency of business activities. As the old saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. It's our commitment to increased accountability and transparency that led us to partner with a group of local community activists and the Natural Resources Defense Council on a two-year ground-breaking project to find ways to reduce pollution at our Midland, Michigan plant site. That project, called the Michigan Source Reduction Initiative, was conducted between 1996 and 1999. We basically opened our doors and shared our data at the Michigan site with non-governmental organizations and with citizens groups. It wasn't easy for us to do, but we did it. We committed a lot of time and energy, and we invested a lot effort in jointly designing and initiating the project. It was a true partnership and, guess what? The results surprised even us. We're now on track to reduce the generation of a specified list of toxic waste, a list that the community activists selected, by 37% to the air and 43% to the water, and we're receiving the financial pay-back. We expect our initial investment of 3.1 million dollars to make the changes will save us nearly 5.4 million dollars.
If you are interested in more details of that project and other partnerships, you can see those in a copy of our new public report that actually we'll be releasing next week, but copies are available out in the hallway for those of you who are here tonight. In our 1999 public report this is our first attempt to move just beyond the environmental health and safety reporting that we've done before and share our progress and the challenges that we see us facing on all three legs of the three-legged stool -- the environment, the economy, and social responsibility. Many people call this the triple bottom line or the three pillars or sustainable development. For us, this is our attempt to integrate our reporting on a very sustainable basis. The report's not the end but really it's a continuation of long and challenging, but what's turned out to be very rewarding journey towards sustainable development for us.
Are there trade-offs? Yes, there certainly are. Every day we're challenged about how we can be the best and how we can do our best to achieve economic, environmental, and social balance and it is a balance. I've seen first-hand the consequences when the elements are not in balance. As I mentioned, I grew up in Detroit and I say the economic and environmental, and social hardships that faced the community as it struggled to grasp with the needs for global competitiveness. We have to face all of those challenges and we have to face them as an integrated whole. When you work on the issues together and when you recognize the integration and the interrelationships, that's when you're ready to start making progress. Multi-stakeholder participation and partnerships allow us to get to the best solutions for everyone. That's what partnership is all about. I said before, it's truly hard. It takes a lot of work and, as we work at it, different people will see things differently. But by working together and by sharing our differences and views openly, we can learn from each other and, as we see the challenges from different angles, we'll come up with more creative and better solutions than the ones that might have been reached outside of such a partnership.
Others have said it before tonight and I'll say it again. We really have come a long way and there is still a long way to go. Looking down the road what I can say to you is that there would be nothing that would be more rewarding than to get the chance to stand before you two, five, or ten years from now and be able to tell story after story of new and different successes, successes that all of us here tonight have been a part of. I'm really convinced and I'm sure many of you are, that by using a multi-stakeholder process with strong positive solutions-oriented people like you, we can create a sustainable future for the Great Lakes region and all of the land beyond that. Thank you for inviting me to be here with you tonight. (Applause)