What Nature Can Teach Business Right Now
During this pandemic, it has never been more clear: We are one people, sharing one world. The COVID-19 pandemic has touched almost every part of our world. It has highlighted the importance of global preparedness and collaboration. And it has reminded us that when it comes to our well-being, we are all in this together. We all have a role to play.
On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, these are important reminders. Earth Day has always been about coming together to take action for the health of our planet. The focus for this year’s Earth Day is on climate change. Like the pandemic, climate change is global in nature. No one is immune from its reach. And like the pandemic, we need to take collaborative action to help curtail it and its negative impacts.
In a LinkedIn article I published last year, I wrote about the lessons business can learn from nature. The world has changed a lot since then, but the lessons nature teaches are largely the same. Just as natural ecosystems are highly interconnected and these interconnections build resilience, a more inclusive and collaborative approach to business can benefit all stakeholders and also contribute to a company’s resilience.
In fact, this pandemic shows us just how important valuing nature is. It demonstrates how our health, economic stability and nature are interconnected. A recent article by the World Economic Forum’s Marie Quinney states: “We have lost 60% of all wildlife in the last 50 years, while the number of new infectious diseases has quadrupled in the last 60 years. It is no coincidence that the destruction of ecosystems has coincided with a sharp increase in such diseases.”
As we move toward getting back to business, we have an opportunity to ask: What should business as normal look like? Should it look different than the past? What lessons can we learn to build something better?
Like many of us, this pandemic has prompted me to personally rethink what I value. It has forced me to refocus on things I might have taken for granted, like the health and safety of my family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. It also has made me deeply grateful for the contributions of our health care workers, teachers, the grocery store employees stocking shelves and so many essential workers. I truly understand how dependent we are on one another.
By rethinking value, business can benefit, too. Take plastic waste as an example. Plastics are an indispensable part of our economic growth and a vital part of our journey toward a lower-carbon future. They contribute to fresher foods; lighter weight, more fuel-efficient vehicles; high-quality personal protective equipment; and safe drinking water and medicines. But the plastic waste is undeniably contributing harm to Earth’s biosystems. Too much plastic is lost to waste and entering our natural environment. Shifting away from a “take-make-waste” model of doing business has the potential to reap tremendous benefits for both business and society. The amount of plastic wasted has an inherent value ranging from $80-120 billion annually. Plus, average net CO2 savings from recycling is estimated to be 1 to 1.5 tonnes CO2 equivalent per tonne of plastics. We have an opportunity to build something better, but it will take all of us working together.
Collaborating for Change
At Dow, we recognize this. We are convening and driving a number of key partnerships throughout the globe – bringing together our customers, brand owners, governments, waste management companies and environmental organizations – to collaborate toward solutions to the critical challenge of plastic waste. To stop the waste, we’re working with organizations such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste to invest in proof-of-concept projects to drastically improve waste collection, particularly in South Asia. We’re also looking for ways to create demand for recycled plastics. In fact, we were named to Forbes’ 2019 “Change the World” list of companies for our use of recycled plastics in roads. We’ve worked with partners across the world to make polymer-modified asphalt roads with recycled plastic.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown us countless examples of the impact that we can make when we work together. Everyone doing their part to social distance and self-quarantine is showing evidence that we are flattening the curve. An international state of emergency has prompted everyone from health care providers to businesses to governments to pivot, look outward and focus their creativity, imagination and technology to innovate and help overcome the challenges of this virus. It’s a powerful reminder of what can be accomplished when we collaborate and respond to our current needs.
If we apply this urgent, collaborative response to the other global challenges – like climate change and plastic waste – we will be well on our way to building a more sustainable and healthier planet. Our CEO Jim Fitterling said it best in a recent blog post: “We expect these COVID-19 impacts to be temporary. But our land and water and air are here forever.”
It’s time to build something better. It’s time to collaborate and invest in global efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change and take care of nature. We are all in this together, and we all have a role to play.
Mary Draves, Chief Sustainability Officer, Dow