A Sustainable Pesticide Company?

dow-logo.jpgA few weeks ago the Dow Chemical Company released its 2007 Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Report with UN Global Compact Communication on Progress. The report received an “A+” from the GRI, the first time in the five years Dow since reporting began.
The report states that the vision of the company is to be “the largest, most profitable, most respected chemical company in the world,” and its mission is to “constantly improve what is essential to human progress by mastering science and technology.”
The maker of Napalm and Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Dow is the second largest chemical company in the world, whose primary industries are “chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, agricultural sciences and plastics,” according to Coop America.

Dow ranked eleventh in the Political Economy Research Institute’s 2000 measure of airborne pollutants emitted in the U.S. During that year, the company released over 14 million pounds of toxins into the U.S. atmosphere. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s documents show that Dow has partial responsibility for 96 of the worst Superfund sites in the U.S.
A report by the Dow Accountability Campaign states that since its inception in the 1890s Dow has polluted property and poisoned people, and continues to do so (PDF). “Through its PR Dow attempts to detract attention from its poisonous legacies.”
Two years ago Dow released its Human Element campaign. According to Toby Sachs, senior vice president/group management director at FCB Chicago, the campaign is about “reconnecting the company with the faces and values of the people Dow touches in a positive way.”
Joel Makower, author of Strategies for the Green Economy, criticized the campaign, describing Dow as “an unapologetic chemical company” and the campaign as a “low-key effort to persuade the public that it wants to be a leader in clean water is bound to leave a bad taste in most people’s mouth.”
Greenpeace Germany released a report (PDF) in June that ranked Dow among the top five biggest pesticide-producing companies. The report stated that “the top five companies all sell a huge quantity of highly hazardous pesticides.”
“Our ranking shows how toxic the business of the leading agrochemical companies still is,” said Greenpeace chemicals expert Manfred Krautter.
Krautter added, “Pesticides that can cause cancer, alter genes, and damage the reproductive, endocrine or nervous system must no longer be authorized. Pesticides that harm bees or life in aquatic environments must be banned from the market. The chemical industry is now using its significant lobbying power to try to secure authorization even for toxins like these.”
This year Dow ranked number one in the UK among makers of aminopyralid-based pesticides. The pesticides contaminated manure which resulted in losses of vegetable crops across the UK earlier this year. The Guardian reported that aminopyralid is “not licensed to be used on food crops and carries a label warning farmers using it not to sell manure that might contain residue to gardeners.”
The EPA gave Dow 60 days to demonstrate its willingness to clean up the dioxin contamination of the Tittabawasee and Saginaw Rivers in Michigan. Dioxins are products of industrial processes like manufacturing herbicides or burning waste. The EPA states that dioxins are likely to cause cancer based on studies. However, Dow claims scientific proof does not exist that dioxins are harmful to humans other than skin rashes.
Last March the Associated Press reported that both rivers are still very contaminated, and critics are charging that Dow is “dragging its feet.”
“It’s unbelievable what they’ve been able to get away with,” said Michelle Hurd Riddick, member of a Saginaw-based environmental group called the Lone Tree Council.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

3 responses

  1. So…. I take it you’re not convinced the GRI report should be considered accurate? Why would the GRI give them an A+ in light of all the other stuff you’re writing about here. I’m all for giving credit where it’s due, and for calling the bluff where it’s appropriate but I’m not getting a clear picture of what your point is here.

  2. I think the point is that many of the measures by which a company such as Dow is measured, in terms of its social and environmental impacts, are celebrating metrics and reports that no one is reading. In this case, a pesticide company such as Dow is able to see itself as a leader in sustainability and responsibility while the core function of its business is one that has real environmental costs that cannot be offset by reporting, or cause marketing.

  3. Ryan, you are exactly correct! An agri-chem company is NOT sustainable by the nature of its products. Pesticides kill and harm more than the pests they are designed to target. I live in a farming community where pesticides are used by most farmers. It’s a regular part of my life to close windows when I see a spray rig connected to a tractor.
    The San Joaquin Valley where I live, where I was born and raised, has the second worst air basin in the country. People are suffering with respiratory illnesses as a result.

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