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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jul/Aug 2002 : Cover Story

Cover Story

Follow the Leader

More Cover Story Articles

- The Challenge of Sustainable Growth
- DuPont's Pathways to Sustainability
- A "Value-Added" Metric
- Four Goals


In March 2001, Holliday addressed the Chicago Executives’ Club in his role as chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The following is an excerpt from that speech.

“In recent years, various experts have extrapolated the consumption rates of developed countries to the rest of the world. Conclusions vary, but it appears that for developing countries to attain the consumption levels of the developed countries, we would require the resources of at least three more earths.

“We have only one earth. Some would argue that the standard of living in the developed world must be lowered for the developing world to progress. We disagree! If we use our creativity and scientific knowledge effectively, we can improve the standard of living for all. This is the major opportunity for business. At DuPont, we call it the challenge of sustainable growth.

“The challenge of sustainable growth is a nuts-and-bolts business reality. We made it the primary objective of our company, because we believe sustainable growth will be the common denominator of successful global companies in the 21st century.

“Here’s how we state the challenge: How do we provide a strong return for our shareholders, grow our businesses and meet the human needs of societies around the world, while at the same time reducing the environmental footprint of our operations and products?

“For the past decade we have been aware that the models on which we based our businesses and production were not sustainable over the long haul. Essentially DuPont, like many other manufacturing companies, grew by making more “stuff.” Business growth was directly proportionate to the increased throughput of energy and raw materials at our plants and the resulting waste and emissions from our operations.

“We knew from our experience in the 1970s and 1980s that the environmental—and subsequent political and regulatory—consequences of this approach to growth were severe. Under Ed Woolard’s leadership in the early 1990s we began—and we have continued—a very aggressive effort to reduce the environmental impact of our operations.

“We’ve made progress. In the process, we learned that improved environmental performance was a necessary, but not sufficient condition of sustainability. Even if we cleaned up all manufacturing companies, the world would not be on a sustainable path. Global consumption patterns were inherently unsustainable given existing technology, energy resources and products.

“The need to understand how industry could evolve sustainable models was the idea behind the World Business Council for Sustainable Development—an organization formed in 1991, and which I currently have the privilege to chair. Four years ago the World Business Council launched a project to develop an understanding of the concept of sustainable consumption. We did not accept the idea that global consumption is a zero sum game in which the developed economies would have to give up some of their quality of life to help the people in the rest of the world. We viewed that approach as destroying a fundamental premise for business’s existence—to create goods and services to improve quality of life. We set out to create a different vision.

“The results of our effort—Sustainability Through the Market—is a holistic approach that acknowledges two essential facts about the current global economy. One is that most of the world’s people cannot participate in the markets where our companies do business. As a result, they cannot obtain the products that help them meet their human needs. The other is that we cannot reach these billions of potential customers, and so we forgo the growth that their lost business represents.

“The solution is to optimize markets so that they can help promote and sustain social equity, economic prosperity and environmental integrity. That is the new definition of social responsibility, and it is joined at the hip to business self-interest. Business will not succeed in the 21st century if societies fail or if ecosystems around the world continue to deteriorate.

“Our final score cards will not be determined by talks in great halls but by real results measured both in small steps and in major leaps. Results that our shareholders and our customers value, and which help societies around the world prosper, will be the measure of our success.”

DuPont's Pathways to Sustainability -->>

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