Follow the Leader
By Penny S. Bonda, FASID
Ranked as the 70th
largest U.S. industrial/service corporation on the Fortune 500 list,
DuPonts tremendous influence into a vast array of marketsfood
and nutrition, health care, apparel, home furnishings, construction,
electronics and transportationis indisputable. Its size and
outreach into both business and consumer markets places it firmly
on the list of most-watched companies. One DuPont initiative gaining
increasing attention from outside groups is its journey toward sustainability,
a directive that began nearly a decade ago and is now under the
watchful care of Charles Holliday, Jr.who acknowledges that
DuPonts leadership position is accompanied by an undeniable
responsibility to set an example. What follows is the story of how
a $25 billion multinational company has transformed itself into
a highly-regarded global corporate citizen that others can follow.
How does a company, especially one as large as DuPont, get to
be 200 years old? According to chairman and CEO Charles (Chad) Holliday,
Jr., its because DuPont believes passionately in who it is
and what it does.
What DuPont is is a science company. Founded in 1802 by E.I. du
Pont de Nemours, a French immigrant, it began as an explosives manufacturer
on the banks of the Brandywine River. The company today is headquartered
in Wilmington, DE, and operates in 65 countries worldwide with over
90,000 employees. DuPont believed then, as it does now, that science
is the foundation that it uses to tackle problems and make peoples
The company has transformed itself several times throughout its
history. At its 100th anniversary in 1902, three young du Pont cousins
modernized management and expanded into new products like paints,
plastics and dyes. Throughout its second hundred years, it continued
to research and develop the miracles of science that
have become part of everyday livingnylon, plastic wrap, Tyvek®,
Corian® and Kevlar®, to name a few. However, as a chemical
company it has also come under its share of criticism, and toward
the end of the 20th century realized a need to readapt to changing
circumstances, to begin to recognize and act on its responsibility
for preserving and protecting the earths resources.
The company itself admits that change is very much a part of its
current culture. In Holliday, it has, by all accounts, found a leader
who clearly has the vision to create a suite of businesses that
will be sustainable for the future. Hes fully aware of the
legacy that leaders before him have left in making the company sustainable
over two centuries, and hes looking at the ways to carry that
legacy forward in the future.
Sustainable growth is, in fact, his byword, and often dictates the
direction hes taking the company even while making some tough
choices. His decision to allow the nylon and synthetic fibers businesses
to ultimately operate independently is but one example of the realignment
that is taking place. Adoption of the Six Sigma methodology for
all operations of the company is another. Well grounded in DuPonts
history and culturehes been employed there for more
than 30 yearsHolliday has the knowledge, sensitivity and courage
to carry forward its continually evolving mission. Holliday recently
sat down with green@work to talk about DuPont at its 200th milestone
year and its future.
As a science company, DuPont is continually challenged
to adapt to a changing world. how has this contributed to your 200
years of success?
Holliday: We officially adopted that logo [the miracles of
science] about three or four years ago. Yet, when we opened the
50-year time capsule and looked at the headlines in the newspapers,
it was clear that DuPont was a science company back then and people
recognized it. So it has shaped us and its how we add value
to the world: we understand a problem and we use our science to
solve it. Thats what weve been doing for a long time.
DuPont has made substantial progress since 1988 when it was named
one of the top corporate polluters in the country. can you elaborate
Holliday: Actually we were listed as the number one polluter.
Greenpeace had scaled a plant we had in New Jersey and hung a big
banner that said DuPont Number One and Polluter
at the bottom. They faced it toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge
to show everybody coming through, but the word Polluter
was so low you couldnt see it. So our phones were ringing
with people saying, You must have won another awardwhat
was it? And, of course, the TV cameras came out. The bottom
line is our plant manager handled it superbly; he was worried about
the people on the tower. It was raining and we had to get them down
safely. I remember sitting in the debriefing and we were proud that
we handled it well. But then the realization hit uswe are
a large polluter; everything we do is legal, but is this where we
want to be? And we said no.
To me that was the daythe eventwhen we started a concentrated
effort with every process to clean up this end of the pipe. It was
the right thing to do for the environment, but we also got a good
return on every project except oneall while increasing production
35 percent. We now maintain those same standards everywhere in the
world, so if you go into a new DuPont plant thats being built
in China or one in Indonesia or here in the U.S., they all have
the same environmental standardseven though [local] regulations
may not be as strict.
You are personally committed to sustainability. where does your
inspiration come from? who are your mentors?
Holliday: Ed Woolard, one of my predecessors, was clearly
a leaderhe was the head of DuPont when we made the commitment.
Theres a lot of people here that really care about the environment
and I wouldnt want to single anyone out; its in the
way that they do businessthis is not an either/or.
Where it hits me is when I see the projects weve accomplishedthings
we can do that make for good business and are right for the environment.
Theres so much we can do, we ought to get on with itand
thats what encourages me.
But what has personally given you this passion and commitment?
Holliday: Living in Asia for six years and going into the
developing cities of Delhi, Beijing and Shanghaiimproving
the environment was one of the best things you could do for the
quality of peoples lives there. Experiencing that moves you.
Then also seeing whats happened in this country. We have a
number of waterways that you couldnt even think about fishing
or swimming in.
Now, if youre thinking, Well, Im only going to
live another 20 years and so I dont care, well thats
different from my view. I cant believe many people really
think that way. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who dont
understand or choose not to understand. Its an education issue.
Much of the improvement in our water and in our air has resulted
from the clean water and clean air acts of 1970. What do you think
of government regulation in general in this area?
Holliday: I think improvements will not happen without government
regulation, but regulations should be focused on what the results
should be, not how to get there. I think thats very important
because, generally, regulations that tell me how to do it will be
much more costly and will not be achieve the results as fast.
So you want performance-based regulations, not prescriptive ones?
Holliday: Right. Hold me accountable, audit me, see if I
did it. Do take into account that industry needs some transition
time to get to a certain point. As long as you allow enough time,
people will find the technology to get there. If you say Ive
got to have it in the next six months, thats a problem. But
if I know for certain in five years that this is going to change,
then I can deal with it.
I also think that in this arena countries need to be non-competitive.
I believe we need to be taking steps across nations and be making
changes at the same time.
The EPA now requires that you report dioxins and other pbts associated
with your manufacturing processes and materials. Has this changed
the way DuPont does business?
Holliday: What I believe were going to find over time
is that there will be some substances, not necessarily the ones
you raised, but some that have undesirable characteristics. What
weve got to haveand our whole industry is working on
this in cooperation with the governmentis a testing program
to understand that. I think thats exactly what we ought to
be doing. When we find a substance that the data says is a problem,
then we need to do something different. But it should be a very
step-wise approach with the right kind of data, the right kind of
testing, and not an emotional reaction to an article in the newspaper.
I think if we do that, then any substance that we work with, that
we buy, that we manufacture or that we sell thats creating
a problem, we must deal with it.
Bo you believe that we can eliminate the toxins that are used
in our industries and find viable alternatives for them that are
Holliday: Im sure therell be some specific examples
where we cant, but I would start moving in that direction.
But we will analyze the alternative product and determine what its
problems arebecause I dont want a solution thats
worse. We may hit one or two snags that are an issue and well
deal with those when we get there.
For example, we worked toward a major reduction of emissions. We
looked at every project across the entire company and said were
going to start with the ones that give us the biggest payback the
quickest. We wanted to make a difference right away. If the country
did that, wed make a lot of progress in a hurry. So dont
tell me how, tell me the results you want. If you want X reduced
from here to there, okay, Ill go do that.
DuPont is such a diverse company. How do you empower your different
divisions to establish environmental leadership in their respective
Holliday: We measure the environmental footprint of each
business for each divisionwe want to make steady progress
to increase our shareholder value added per volume of product. We
look at those measures periodically in our normal performance reports,
and while weve got an overall goal for the company, we havent
forced each unit to have a goal that adds up to the total because
we dont know how to do that just yet. But many are stepping
up and setting goals themselvesusually very aggressive goals.
With that in place we have a formal review every year where we focus
on specific programs. You must constantly keep the environment on
the front burner; you cant for example, decide to put these
programs off during a recession. Were going to stay on our
steady path. Our people are proud of what we do around the environment.
There are a lot of people in business who believe in environmental
issues but who are reluctantI wont say scaredbut
reluctant to talk about the subject too much because they think,
perhaps, that others will think they dont care about making
money. Wellwe care about making money, but we just dont
find the two mutually exclusive, which is the difference.
In a speech you gave last year, you said that a huge number of
the worlds population lives in dire poverty. Yet if everyone
on this earth were to enjoy the standard of living that we do here
in the United States, we would need at least three planet earths
to support us. How do we raise those people out of poverty and yet
let us all enjoy these things equally?
Holliday: I think you have to have a reasonable timeframe
to accomplish that. What I found out about Americans from living
in an Asian society is that we have very short time frames. When
you talk to a group of Chinese nationalists or Japanese, a hundred
years is not that long. To us a hundred years is so long we cant
even think about it.
So if you say, I really want to make a tremendous amount of
progress in a hundred years, well, all of a sudden that starts
to be reasonable and then its amazing how many things we can
Can you elaborate?
Holliday: Theres one program that the Carter Center
did that moved me tremendously. They teach farming practices in
developing countries. Here in this country its pretty obvious
that you would cultivate or break the ground a little bit before
you plant the seeds. Here, you wouldnt plant the seeds under
a tree, right? Well, they just plant the seeds under the trees.
Its cooler and its easier to plant. So with a little
bit of education we can do so much.
Look at the corn crop in China, the second biggest corn producer
behind the U.S. We could grow this industry through teaching the
right practices and developing the seeds that are right for their
soil and climate conditions. We know we can make major progress
in Chinas corn industry, not by simply giving away a little
bit of money, but if we can make it economically beneficial for
us to go in well do it. I think its a matter of finding
our targets, but we need a reasonable time frame. This is not a
Now youre talking about biotechnology here to some extent.
Is that a big area now for DuPont?
Holliday: Biotech, when you back off from it, says in the
last five years weve learned to understand the building blocks
of lifewhether its a corn plant or an insect or a person.
What were finding is that the similarities between all those
are almost scary. The number of genes in a corn plant and the number
of genes in one of us is, in order of magnitude, the same number.
The task now is understanding how these corn genes can be put to
work to yield crops that can be resistant to disease in a much more
targeted, controlled way. If you spend a little time with our scientists
and understand what they can do, it gives you tremendous hope that
you could be part of the solution.
I think this is very uncomfortable technology for a lot of people
because now youre experimenting with life. But weve
been breeding crops forever in a very uncontrolled way. Somehow
that didnt bother us. Obviously the logics changed,
but we have to face the reality that this is very uncomfortable
for many people, so its not simply a matter of saying you
just dont understand. Its a matter of how do we do the
education? How do we take this one step at a time?
If, for example, youre going to make a drug thats going
to cure cancer, people who have had cancer will naturally be receptive
to that drug. But if Ive got plenty to eat its kind of hard
for me to understand why making more food is very helpful, because
I dont see whats going on in Africa and so forth. So
I think its an education process there too.
Are there areas to which you will not go?
Holliday: We work with bio-based materials and plants. Were
not working with animals or humans. I think there would be some
clear areas with animals and humans we wouldnt go. We obviously
adhere to all government regulations, but we also have an external
advisory board on biotech issues. Theres someone from China,
India, Mexico, France and the U.S. and they have access to everything
we do. They write an independent report every year where theyre
free to say exactly whats going on. These are world leaderstheyre
not going to rubber stamp everything DuPonts doing.
So I think you will find over time a number of things we wont
do. You can look for us to be on the conservative side.
As a multinational corporation, do you see your role and responsibility
more to the planet or to this country?
Holliday: I dont think theyre separable. We are
headquartered here, were a U.S.-based company, but we operate
globally and we adapt to the cultural needs where we are. What Im
seeing more and more is that in order to meet the needs of the U.S.,
we have to meet the needs of the world, especially for an issue
like global warming. If were not setting the highest standards
here, how can we be credible anywhere else in the world?
I was in Beijing a couple weeks ago on a panel with the Minister
of the Environment and a group of students and journalists got on
him about the Three Gorges Dam. It is considered the biggest dam
project in the history of the world and they wanted to know what
it was going to do to the environment. Then they attacked me about
why the U.S. didnt support Kyoto. Im not sure which
one of us had the most difficult time. Our view of Kyoto is that
it has many serious flaws and should not be adopted as it is. But
we think we should work on it to improve and fix the flaws rather
than saying nothing, because some of the directives around Kyoto
are very good.
But doesnt the U.S. look like the biggest bully on the
Holliday: I would hope we could sit down and have some good
dialogue and understanding and find ways to find common ground.
I assume that time will do that. To some extent, when other nations
know that were going to take a stand, then theyll go
along with something they may not be clear about, knowing that nothing
silly is going to be done. That way they can get the best of both
I think there are so many positive things we can do with technology
that can make a differenceand theres some very simple
things, like emissions trading. But we need to get a workable system
going because its holding up progress. [Some companies are]
afraid that if they make reductions now, and then a trading system
is put in place, their previous work doesnt count. So they
decide to hold off. But you dont want people thinking about
holding off. You want to get moving. I think emissions trading would
actually move thingssome people think itll slow things
down, but I think its just the opposite, itll speed
What advice would you give to other corporations, both large
and small, both local and international, that want to become more
sustainable, but are afraid of shareholder reaction, are afraid
of public opinion, are afraid of politicians?
Holliday: I think todays shareholders are concerned
about big environmental problems. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index
has outperformed the market. There is a clear value for shareholders
in avoiding big problems. But how do you do that? You fix all the
small problems every day. Then youve made progress and you
dont become a target. Also, remember the kids that are coming
through school. It wont take long before theyll be in
their 20s and early 30s and playing a big role in what stocks are
Second, remember that it takes a long time to get there. You cant
suddenly decide youre going to be an environmental leader
and be there, so youd better start now and go after it. I
think organizations need to be very careful that theyre not
misunderstood. We think [economics and the environment] are compatible,
they both work, but you need to be thoughtful.
When the big guys push initiatives forward, it gives the little
guys some courage to do the same. Do you feel this is a responsibility?
Holliday: I think whether the issue is safety or ethics or
treatment of people, I think we do set an example for others. I
think about all of our core values and hold those very high. You
know, you cant take a strong stand on the environment, yet
be unethical dealing with your customers. It just doesnt fit
very well. I think, especially after Enron, that strong, ethical
companies with integrity are going to rise to the top.
Tell us a little bit about DuPonts sustainable growth excellence
Holliday: They started strictly around the environment. Now
theyve taken on a broader definition of sustainable growth,
which includes safety. Theyre about honoring individuals or
teams who have made particular contributions toward sustainability.
A very unique thing we do each year is use a different set of outside
judges who come in and evaluate our projects, see what were
doing and get to know us. So each year we have eight new people
who take their job very seriously. Now, 10-plus years later, weve
got a lot of judges out there in the world; people who send us ideas
that can have impact or who encourage a student or two to come to
work for us. The monetary portion of the award is not for the individual.
They get to give $5,000 dollars to the not-for-profit environmental
agency of their choice. This gives them a lot of recognition and
for the not-for-profit, the money really goes a long way.
As DuPont begins its third century, what are your biggest environmental
challenges and goals?
Holliday: I think the next challenges are really the same
as our current challenges: weve got great science, weve
got great needs, now how do we put those together? Many times thats
a simple economic equation, but when it comes to this topic its
also an emotional one. Weve got to learn to manage peoples
emotions around new technologies and around whats the right
thing to do for the environmentand then bring all that together
to make progress.
I think its going to be a difficult job, particularly in this
country, especially in the area of transportation. We need some
very visible examples of things that work. Were involved in
a project now that Im very enthusiastic about. Have you been
to Taipei? It looks like a sea of motor scooters, very polluting
motor scooters. So we have developed, in cooperation with the government,
a fuel cell powered motor scooter that we think can do a lot with
pollution there. Weve been dealing with the owners of the
gas stations and now theyre carrying chargeable hydrogen cartridges.
You plug one into the motor scooter and youre off. Im
encouraged because thats a really neat project and its
economically sound with just a little bit of government help. In
fact, the president of Taiwan tried out one of our motor scooters
last week. Thats progress.
The Challenge of Sustainable