Dow Chemical’s Sustainability Drive: CEO Daily

September 4, 2019, 10:24 AM UTC

Good morning from glistening Fuxian lake in China’s southern Yunnan province, where Fortune is hosting the opening session of its inaugural Global Sustainability Forum. Eamon Barrett filling in for Alan Murray.

The Global Sustainability Forum was convened under the conviction that sustainability has shifted from the periphery to the core of business interests, and we’ve already seen proof of that today.

Dow Chemical CEO Jim Fitterling told the forum audience that he spends 25% of his time on sustainability issues. And he’s not alone—the company’s board, Fitterling says, has spent more time on sustainability this year than “just about anything else.”

“They believe it’s a purpose we have to tackle and they’ve believed it for a long time,” Fitterling says, noting this is Dow’s third decade of publishing long-term sustainability goals.

That might seem like an unlikely scenario for a petrochemical company, let alone one of the world’s largest producers of plastics—a material currently the scourge of environmentalists everywhere—but it’s because Dow is engaged in a “dirty” business that it needs to be clean. Every company wants to be profitable long-term but, if you’re not sustainable, that won’t happen.

Dow was actually included in Fortune’s Change The World list this year, for its efforts to create more durable road material by melting plastic scrap into tarmac — a process that not only cuts carbon emissions by reducing bitumen content but also saves some plastic from piling up at landfill sites.

That’s the sort of circular economy solution to waste that Fitterling advocated on stage here in Yunnan, arguing that litter piling up on beaches and drifting in the ocean isn’t really a problem with plastic: it’s a problem with waste.

“We have a linear economy which is designed to take these things and throw them out. Or we have recycling systems where we think things are going to be recycled but they aren’t,” Fitterling says, pointing to how waste from the U.S. is frequently dumped on beaches in Asia or elsewhere.

And that’s why global leaders need to step up and make changes because those problems are harder for small, local communities to deal with. Here at Fortune we’ve always believed that big business holds the real power to make change, and the Global Sustainability Forum is showcasing real ways that can be done.

The forum continues tomorrow. Until then, more news below.

Eamon Barrett


Johnson Defeat

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson resoundingly lost the first big vote of his premiership—a vote that paved the way for legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit at the end of October. Johnson also saw his government's one-person majority disappear in front of his eyes, as Conservative MP Phillip Lee crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. That majority then plowed firmly into negative territory, after the PM made good on his threat to eject 21 Conservative rebel MPs from the party. Johnson now wants a general election in mid-October, but the opposition won't play ball until the anti-no-deal law is etched in stone. In short, Johnson's plans have blown up in his face. BBC

Factory Activity

The U.S. manufacturing sector shrank last month—the first time it has done so in three years—largely thanks to the trade war. The news (based on an Institute for Supply Management index) knocked stocks and government bond yields. Wall Street Journal

Trump Tariffs

President Trump reportedly had to be talked down from doubling his tariffs on Chinese goods, after he reacted furiously to China's retaliation against said tariffs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer apparently got a bunch of CEOs to call the president and tell him why such a move would be a bad idea for the economy. CNBC

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam will reportedly withdraw the extradition-to-mainland-China legislation that sparked the city's mass protests. She had already suspended the legislation, but scrapping it would go some way towards meeting protestors' demands. The news boosted Hong Kong stocks by almost 4%. Fortune


Cathay Pacific

The exodus of top Cathay Pacific execs has continued with the resignation of chairman John Slosar, who says it's about retirement and not any disagreement with the board. CEO Rupert Hogg quit last month, after China demanded the suspension of staffers who support the Hong Kong protests. Reuters

Spanish Growth

One big Eurozone country is bucking the near-recessionary trend, and it's Spain. As the Financial Times notes, its continued growth is largely down to a shift from an export-driven model to a consumer-demand-driven model. FT

Electric Porsche

Volkswagen-owned Porsche has unveiled its first all-electric sports car, the Taycan. Germany answer to Tesla's Model S will cost around $90,000 and have a range of around 310 miles. Bloomberg

Facial Recognition

Facebook is making its facial recognition features—such as suggesting names for people in photos—opt-in. This will come as music to the ears of privacy advocates. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer. Find previous editions here, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters here.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet