1992. The Treatment’s “Friday I’m in Love” is on the radio. Invoice Clinton is about to be elected to the presidency over George H.W. Bush and an rebel Ross Perot. The time period “browsing the web” is coined.
It was the yr — roughly 30 years in the past — that Dow’s first council of exterior specialists tasked with advising the corporate on environmental points got here to be.
Evidently, most firms weren’t participating critically on environmental points in 1992, not to mention asking unbiased advisers to information their choices round them. The Sustainability Exterior Advisory Council — or SEAC, because it’s now recognized (initially, the Company Environmental Advisory Council) — was a primary within the petrochemical business. Whereas inside sustainability councils and government boards at the moment are widespread, exterior advisory teams are nonetheless a relative rarity. One other instance is Trane Applied sciences’ Advisory Council on Sustainability.
At this time, Dow’s SEAC has seven members plus chair Andre Argenton, the corporate’s vp of setting, well being and security, and chief sustainability officer — a longtime chief at Dow who has simply accomplished his first yr within the position.
Whereas cynics could think about a cabal of yes-men and yes-women validating Dow’s sinister whims with a wink and a nod, SEAC’s membership is various, their experience authentic and verifiable.
One member, on board since 2014, is John Warner, an originator of the sphere of inexperienced chemistry. One other rockstar, Isabel Studer, is director of Alianza College of California-Mexico and the previous government director for Mexico and Northern Central America at The Nature Conservancy.
Group members are compensated (“primarily based on the time and dedication they supply us,” Argenton instructed me), and they’re chosen for the relevance of their perspective and experience to Dow’s materials points and world territories. Outdoors of an annual 2.5-day assembly, Argenton engages instantly with every member for steering “at the least every year for positive, extra seemingly twice.”
The group has helped set the imaginative and prescient, scope and ambition — and vitally, says Argenton, advisable particular exterior companions — for Dow’s public sustainability objectives for the reason that firm’s first foray in 2005. Presently, the SEAC is supporting the excellent redesign of Dow’s water technique, in addition to the corporate’s goal-setting round nature and biodiversity as its 2025 objectives come due.
I spoke with Argenton to seek out out the key to the advisory council’s longevity. He paints a compelling portrait of a council beneficial sufficient to Dow that it’s lasted 30 years — and will final 30 extra.
Dylan Siegler: You’re a few yr into your tenure as CSO. How do you’re employed with the Sustainability Exterior Advisory Council (SEAC)?
Andre Argenton: I do know you requested concerning the final 12 months, however my very first publicity to SEAC was over 10 years in the past, in all probability 15. I used to be a analysis chief [at Dow Chemical], and I used to be invited to current to the SEAC how we had been excited about safer supplies and biodegradation, with a really robust technical emphasis. Within the circle, we had deep technical specialists in biodegradation. However they challenged me [from a different angle], asking: “Who was I participating with within the exterior world? Which prospects had been we working with?” I bear in mind this query: “Whenever you take a look at your prospects, and the place this know-how goes to be deployed, what’s their view of sustainability?”
Siegler: Are you able to give an instance of a call or framework that they’ve supported you on just lately?
Argenton: We had been one of many very first few firms, if not the primary firm in our sector, to have a aim that values nature in our enterprise choices. That was a direct advice from SEAC — not solely “do that, it is sensible,” however they helped us agree that it was the fitting factor to do. Then they helped us outline what the aim ought to be and had direct enter on what ought to be the pragmatic method, which strategies we must always develop and who we must always associate with in growing methodologies to make sure that no matter we’ll do for the following decade was verifiable, and that it was value-creating to us and to society.
Siegler: What do you assume Dow good points from participating with the group on this method?
Argenton: We worth their candid enter. There may be not a single assembly the place they don’t problem us [to] be bolder, go quicker. And that pushes us. We worth their range of thought: All of them come from totally different backgrounds and a range of [geographies]. We’ve got them to problem us, to information us, to advise us, to inform us if we’re pondering by way of an issue in a non-holistic method, and that enter makes us stronger. It’s actually essential that once you resolve to have a company like SEAC, to do it with the intent to say, “I’m going to be clear about every thing. My challenges, my strengths, my issues.” And create an setting the place they really feel inspired or rewarded to be candid and clear. As a result of from that we develop.
Siegler: Have there been cases the place you’ve made choices in opposition to their recommendation?
Argenton: The selections we make as an organization require a a lot larger image of every thing within the ecosystem — and they don’t seem to be the only real group that guides us. The complexity of those choices is such that we get enter from SEAC, we get enter from inside stakeholders, we get enter from prospects, we get enter from the group advisory panel, and from the colleges we work with on the know-how facet. And from that mixed set of inputs, that’s how we make our choices. (Editor’s notice: Dow’s Neighborhood Advisory Panels are teams of people who stay close to or round a chemical facility and meet usually. Nearly all of Dow websites have such teams.)
Siegler: Given that you simply do have all of these stakeholder teams that you simply’re coping with and managing, is the SEAC all the time helpful? Or does it typically really feel like simply one other stakeholder group that you should reply to?
Argenton: Let me put it into sensible phrases: I’m but to overlook a gathering with them over different priorities. I deeply care about what they’ve to inform me even when it’s, “Oh, all proper, I perceive, we’ve received to go quicker on this one. Thanks.” And I feel the worth that they carry to the corporate is to not me or to the sustainability group, it’s to the corporate.
Siegler: What recommendation would you give firms that need to begin a gaggle like this?
Argenton: I feel the primary [piece of advice] is that it’s value it. An organization will get the worth from an exterior group in case you align that group’s experience to your materials points as an organization. Additionally, it’s not free. I’m not speaking concerning the compensation — it’s that you simply get as a lot out of it as you set into it. You want to do the pre-work, you should preserve them educated and educated about your organization, you should discover methods to embed them along with your firm.
Siegler: What would the final 30 years at Dow have regarded like with out SEAC?
Argenton: With out them, we’d not have the management place that we consider we have now in sustainability. Each strategic resolution that we’ve made in issues of sustainability had their enter. They add to the power and the robustness of our technique and our commitments and objectives — and the position of the council will stay simply as crucial sooner or later because it has over the past 30 years.
If your organization has an exterior advisory group supporting sustainability, we’d love to listen to about it. Attain out to me on LinkedIn.