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Dow Chemical’s Sustainability Drive: CEO Daily

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
eamon.barrett@fortune.com
@Eamonbarrett49

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