Dow Chemical Company and a group of environmental activists have completed a two-year collaborative project to cut the production of toxic chemicals and reduce their release into the air and water. Despite deep skepticism on both sides, the project has achieved reductions of more than 35 percent in both areas.
The challenge was to determine if environmentalists who were thoroughly versed in the company’s needs and processes could reduce pollution and also boost profits. The answer turned out to be yes. Dow invested $3.1 million to make the necessary changes at its Midland, Michigan, plant and as a result stands to save $5.4 million annually.
In one instance, innovations and modifications in the manufacture of resins eliminated formaldehyde- laced tars as a by-product. The one-time cost of $330,000 produced annual savings of $3.3 million at Dow’s waste treatment center.
In other departments, pollution prevention equipment was being bypassed or not used properly as managers strove to increase production. Dow executives changed these practices by tying a portion of their engineers’ salaries to the performance of the environmental equipment.
While the savings that resulted from the project represent only a fraction of the $1.3 billion that Dow earned last year, the voluntary nature of the program and the chance to see their industry through new eyes has not been lost on Dow executives.
Corporate goals call for reducing toxic emissions by 50 to 90 percent by 2005. With that in mind, Dow is already making plans to duplicate the Michigan project at its giant Freeport, Texas, petrochemical complex.