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Corporate America: Lead, follow or get out of the way on climate change

It might seem counterintuitive that a 100-year-old former coal mining company would this week join more than 80 other businesses in taking the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. But that’s exactly what DSM – formerly “Dutch State Mines” – did. We are proud to be part of a group of companies meeting at the White House this week with President Obama, joining thirteen companies including Apple, Coca-Cola, Google and Microsoft, to underscore our combined dedication to a low-carbon, renewable energy, sustainable future. 

At DSM, we’ve been working toward that goal for a decade transforming our company through acquisition, divestiture and investment into a global leader in moving to a low carbon, circular economy—rebranding the DSM acronym to mean “Do Something Meaningful.” We are pleased to join this group of iconic American companies in a collective effort to advocate for even more action on climate change. We all understand that business cannot be successful in a society that fails. Large multinational companies can be a powerful voice for change themselves; collectively they can change the world. Together we are divesting in fossil fuel, investing in renewable energy and materials, committing to using less water in our processes, recycling more and improving supply chains that will result in real carbon gains. Perhaps more importantly, we are demanding that our suppliers do the same, and are strongly enouraging greater action by government, consumers and other corporations. 

{mosads}We at DSM go a step further. We tie our executive compensation to meeting sustainability targets, and report our results in this respect in an integrated fashion alongside our financial results. We actively speak out in support of a carbon fee, and impose one on ourselves. We also embrace a thought leadership position with governments, academia, NGOs and others on these issues, even where they are not directly relevant to our commercial interests and business operations. We strongly encourage other multinationals to do the same. 

Unfortunately, there are still some companies whose C-suite members publicly embrace climate social responsibility while simultaneously funding and directing their lobbyists in world capitols to vigorously oppose all climate change mitigation legislation. This must stop. My ask of fellow corporate executives? If you cannot support global business and governmental efforts to mitigate climate change please at least stop lobbying against the efforts of others. 

It is cliché to use the expression lead, follow or get out of the way; but it is appropriate here. DSM and our global business peers will continue to lead this week in the White House and on down the road through Paris in December. We invite our fellow business leaders to get on board and work together with us collectively on finding scalable solutions to climate change that the world urgently needs. If you cannot be part of the solution, then get out of the way. There is both a business and moral imperative to do something now. We as a global community cannot afford the actions of some business leaders who continue to fight and oppose all efforts to move to a lower carbon, more sustainable planet and economy.    

We at DSM will continue to focus on renewable energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency and continue to tie executive compensation – including my yearly bonus –  to sustainability targets. We’ve built a solar field in New Jersey that produces up to half of our manufacturing plant’s electricity there and offsets carbon emissions from the grid by more than 4,500 metric tons every year. Soon, 75 percent of our energy for DSM’s U.S. facilities will come from renewable sources. All of our operations, across six continents, are moving to 100 percent renewable energy including solar, biofuel, wind and hydroelectric, and we are confident we will reach 50 percent before 2025. As a large industrial manufacturer, we feel a particular responsibility to improve our numbers and lead the way for others. We have invested over $200 million to build a commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa, making truly renewable fuel, creating jobs that can’t be outsourced and improving U.S. national security.  

The first White House group of companies to take the Climate Pledge added up to $140 billion in new low-carbon investment and more than 1,600 megawatts of new renewable energy, and this next wave is expected to meet or exceed that. 

As the world heads into the United Nations Conference on global climate negotiations in Paris this December, DSM is pleased to join this group of companies setting the leadership pace, encouraging others to follow and demanding that those who resist get out of the way.

Welsh is president of DSM North America.


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