As a regulator and as a corporate executive, I have a unique perspective in the burgeoning world of sustainability because I’ve looked at this issue from both sides. Many would suggest that those two perspectives are like night and day, yet I believe the regulator and the regulated community have much in common.
In my view, sensible, science-based regulation protects the public health and the environment, but it also creates regulatory certainty. Regulation can provide the industry with the market incentives and time it takes to develop new solutions to pressing problems.
At DuPont, our vision is to be the world’s most dynamic science company, creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. As often as we repeat these words, we need to remind ourselves that they are more than an inspirational goal: they inform our everyday reality and are an integral part of the way we conduct ourselves.
Our mission of sustainable growth can be traced back to decisions and commitments we made decades ago. In the ’70s and ’80s, our sustainability focus was on internal safety and meeting environmental regulations. In the late ’80s and through the ’90s, we added voluntary environmental footprint reductions, going beyond the current regulatory requirements.
Next, we began thinking more deeply about our products and how they could help our customers reduce their impact on the environment. In 2006, we made sustainability commitments that placed more focus on the types of products we brought to the market, and not just on how we made them.
These “market-facing sustainability goals” addressed all stages of product development, from R&D efforts through marketing and sales. They also marked a turning point in our corporate thinking around sustainability, from an internal focus to one that looked outward. Sustainability had become a key part of our growth strategy, as we established goals that recognized an opportunity in helping our customers improve their environmental and product performance.
We are currently focused on developing sustainable solutions for three global challenges: feeding the world, decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting people and the environment. Society is demanding high-performance, sustainable innovations to address these issues, and it’s through such innovation that we will have to develop new products and services if we are to achieve our market-facing goals by 2015.
GOAL NO. 1: R&D INVESTMENT
Our first goal was to double our investment in R&D programs with direct, quantifiable environmental benefits for our customers and consumers to $640 million per year.
In 2010, we surpassed our goal, investing $667 million in total.
Our investment is paying off. A key example is DuPont’s critical role in the solar industry. DuPont materials continue to set new photovoltaic (PV) industry standards around the world. Highly durable and efficient photovoltaic modules, widely known as solar panels, permit the reliable production of low-carbon electricity.
The generation and storage of renewable energy will be the fastest-growing sector in the energy market for the next 20 years. With more than three decades of experience in PV materials development, applications know-how, manufacturing expertise, and global market access, our extensive (and growing) portfolio of solar solutions is key to both crystalline silicon and thin-film solar cells and modules. Our materials increase their lifetime and efficiency, thus reducing overall system costs.
We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars across all of our businesses that sell into the solar photovoltaic market. We collaborate with PV cell and module manufacturers, equipment suppliers, academic institutions, industry associations, and government entities. We have expanded our global capabilities for product R&D, bringing testing and application support closer to customers in every region.
In the end, we want to reduce the cost of solar energy to bring it in line with other forms of power generation, and therefore encourage faster and broader adoption of solar energy to reduce fossil-fuel dependence. We are close. We expect to reach that goal mid-decade.
GOAL NO. 2: INTRODUCE SAFETY PRODUCTS
Our second market-facing goal was to introduce at least 1,000 new products or services that help make people safer globally.
To date, we have introduced 928.
Worker safety has traditionally been included as part of the social aspect of sustainability. To that
end, DuPont is committed to protecting our protectors—military personnel, law enforcement officers,
firefighters, and first responders—with things that help them perform their jobs as safely as possible. Products such as DuPont™ Kevlar® and Nomex® advanced fibers and DuPont™ Tyvek® nonwovens are used in body armor, helmets, turnout gear, vehicle armoring, and other protective equipment.
GOAL NO. 3: GROW REVENUES THROUGH SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
By 2015, we plan to grow our annual revenues by at least $2 billion from products that create energy efficiency or significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We are getting there; in 2010, we generated revenue of $1.6 billion from products that help our customers, or the final consumer, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the increase was from revenue growth in key areas like PVs and from engineering polymers used in safely lightweighting vehicles.
One example of how we operationalize this charge is through cars. It’s no surprise that automobiles are a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions. But high-performance, lightweight DuPont-engineered plastics can replace heavier metal parts and components inside cars, thereby reducing their weight and contributing to fuel savings and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. We have also developed next-generation refrigerants for automobile air conditioning that have a 97 percent lower global warming potential than the substances currently in use.
We estimate that our products have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in our supply chains by more than 6.5 million metric tons between 2007 and 2010.
GOAL NO. 4: NON-DEPLETABLE RESOURCES
Our final market-facing goal was to nearly double revenue from products produced from non-depletable resources, to at least $8 billion. Last year, we grew to $7.7 billion in revenue.
Our customers and their consumers are demanding more sustainable and environmentally friendly products—now. They want products that are better for the environment because they are made with better materials.
DuPont is delivering high-performance, biobased materials made from renewable sources that reduce fossil-fuel dependence. Using common crops, such as corn or soybeans, as well as nonfood crops, like switchgrass and corn stover, to make renewably sourced building-block chemicals and fuels reduces the need for petroleum as a raw material. It also reduces carbon emissions from the processing stages.
Renewably sourced products cross numerous industries and markets. They are used in everything from carpeting to fabrics to personal care products to liquid detergents and antifreeze.
The market seems to agree with our direction. According to 89 percent of DuPont customers surveyed, delivering products with environmental benefits is a long-term market opportunity. Our customers said that among their most important environmental benefits are products that deliver inherently safer materials, reduced air and water pollution, and improved energy efficiency.
Moreover, two-thirds of our customers believe environmental benefits in products will continue to have a positive impact on job creation in the next five years. This trend offers significant growth opportunities for companies that can deliver sustainable solutions.
We view DuPont’s role as making the direct link between our customers and the markets they serve. It’s the key to truly integrating sustainability as a growth strategy.
We see sustainability broadening to include human safety as well as environmental protection, and continuing be a key driver of our business priorities throughout the value chains we serve.
The transition to products that meet the definition of “sustainable” will happen over time. But the pace will quicken as the synergistic effects of market demand, societal expectations, and product innovation create collaborations up and down the value chain.
We believe the global companies that succeed in responding successfully and sustainably to 21st century challenges will be those that master the art of collaboration. That’s why we are building alliances around the world in an effort to address needs sustainably at the local level.
We’ve adopted a new model that we call “inclusive innovation.” It means solving problems by designing their solutions in cooperation with those who will benefit directly from the product.
We invite others to join us in this endeavor as we uncover unmet needs and respond to them. Together, we can accomplish what no one can do alone.
Linda Fisher is chief sustainability officer and vice president—DuPont Safety, Health & Environment, where she has served since 2004. An attorney, Fisher was previously a senior leader at the Environmental Protection Agency and is a board member of several not-for-profit organizations.