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Using Sustainability as a Guide

Early successes in improving its environmental performance led chemical giant DuPont toward a more ambitious mission to incorporate sustainability into its design processes in order to offer products that deliver benefits for its customers and the planet.

As societal expectations of companies shifted toward being beyond compliance with the law, DuPont established in 1989 our first footprint reduction goals to align the company with the new expectations. DuPont committed to a 90 percent reduction in air carcinogens and 70 percent reduction in air toxics.

The concept was to set 10-year goals that allowed DuPont to find innovative solutions that benefited both business and the environment. We challenged the organization to drive source reduction strategies versus end-of-pipe treatments. Over the next few years we added goals on energy use and greenhouse gas emission reductions, again, with long implementation horizons to allow for innovative and creative solutions.

By 2000, we had exceeded our goals: Air carcinogens dropped 92 percent, air toxics were down by 75 percent, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 50 percent and we held total energy flat despite a 30 percent increase in production.

Interestingly enough, stakeholders commended us on our progress but challenged us to think about doing more. As a result, we adopted "Sustainable Growth" as our mission and defined it as creating shareholder and societal value while reducing our footprint along the value chains in which we operate.

Over the next few years we started to ask ourselves -- what does it mean to reduce the footprint in our value chains? How could we use science to create sustainable solutions, and how did we want to focus our efforts?

In October of 2006, we announced our 2015 Sustainability Goals. While we committed to continued progress in reducing our own footprint, the unique aspect of the new set of goals included four market facing goals:

  1. Environmentally smart market opportunities from R&D efforts: Double our investment in R&D programs with direct, quantifiable environmental benefits for our customers and consumers along our value chains.
  2. Products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Increase our annual revenues by at least $2 billion from products that create energy efficiency and/or significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
  3. Revenues from non-depletable resources: Nearly double revenues from non-depletable resources to at least $8 billion.
  4. Products that protect people: Introduce at least 1,000 new products or services that help make people safer globally.

We've begun implementing these goals and are now are working directly with the businesses on their growth strategies. Businesses are determining how to focus R&D and the ways it can bring performance improvement and quantifiable environmental benefits to the customer or final consumer.

We have worked with teams within R&D to develop the tools to challenge researchers to think about elements like energy use, water use, greenhouse gas emission, and end-of-life opportunities from our customer’s perspective.

An important first step involved the development of an assessment tool for each R&D program to analyze whether the new product or service will reduce environmental impacts versus the incumbent. We also set up sessions at the yearly technology conference to help the R&D community understand the resources available within DuPont.

Business leaders are determining how their products can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by driving energy efficiency in building and transportation. We are investing in developing materials for renewable sources of energy, such as solar panels, fuel cells and next generation biofuels. A broad set of businesses across the company is working on using renewable resources to provide products for the automotive, carpet, packaging, personal care and textiles industries. These are replacing materials that had traditionally been based on fossil fuels as the raw material.

For example, we created Sorona, an advanced material that contains 37 percent renewably sourced material (by weight) derived from corn. Sorona offers a unique combination of attributes that are beneficial in a wide variety of applications: textile fibers and fabrics for home interiors and apparel, carpeting, and a variety of packaging applications, such as films, sealants, foams and rigid containers.

The pleasant surprise from all of this is the excitement that the market facing goals have created within the company. While employees were proud that we accomplished our commitments to reduce our footprint, they are energized by the new commitments to drive the future growth on the company by delivering sustainable solutions to create a better, safer and healthier world for people everywhere.

We have a long way to go to meet the 2015 commitments, but as we see the pull from customers and consumers, and the excitement from our employees, we are confident that further integration of sustainability into all the business growth plans will deliver the best return for our shareholders and society.

Dawn Rittenhouse is Director of Sustainable Development of the DuPont Co.

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