I recently reviewed the Dow Chemical Company CSR Report for 2009 for the CorporateRegister.com website. The most significant thing about this report, aside from it's content, is it's structure. Here is the first section of the review as it appears in the CorporateRegister.com Expert Review section:
The Dow Chemical Company is a diversified chemicals manufacturer with specialist expertise in the electronics, coatings, plastics, health and agricultural sciences fields and more. The company operates at 214 sites in 37 countries around the globe, employing over 52,000 people and netting nearly US$45 billion in sales turnover. A veteran reporter, Dow published a first Environmental Report back in 1997 at a time when reporters were true pioneers. The uniqueness of Dow's reporting is that not only is it written in accordance with the GRI guidelines, it's actually named after the GRI framework and called a "Global Reporting Initiative Report", following the flow of GRI disclosures and indicators point by point and question by question (with the addition of a "GRI Read me first" section which provides highlights of Dow's sustainability activities during past years).
Aside from the GRI's own reports, I don’t recall seeing many others structured in this way. There are upsides and downsides to this approach. The upside is the absolute clarity and discipline with which the report is written, which adds much to its credibility. The downside is that Dow's overall predominant value contribution to global sustainability gets lost. Dow has apparently considered what issues are most material for the company and has translated these into Sustainability Goals to the year 2015, which, due to the structure of this report, are best reviewed as a group of goals on the Dow website. Exactly how these goals were developed, and whether they are the result of a structured materiality analysis, is unclear. In fairness however, Dow presents the most comprehensive set of quantified goals, described in plain language, that I have ever seen. They are grouped in three focus areas: Collaborate, Innovate and Elevate. The goals include: Local Protection of Human Health and the Environment, Contributing to Community Success, Product Safety Leadership, Sustainable Chemistry, Breakthroughs to World Challenges, Energy Efficiency and Conservation and Addressing Climate Change. I am just missing a goal related to the Dow workplace, but this is impressive nonetheless. However, in my view, what this report gains in credibility as a result of rigid tick-box style application of the GRI framework, it loses in terms of focus, resulting in a kind of fragmentation of the real Dow story. With an organization of this size, scope and diversity, the highlighting of some key material themes, with case studies and more in-depth exploration of impacts, would have brought a little life to this report.
This rigid structure, together with the impersonal nature of the report (only one photo of the Chairman and none of employees or any other stakeholders) made me think of comparing the Dow report to a chemistry experiment - sterile laboratory conditions, detailed lab notes, exact measures of all materials, a process conducted in perfect sequence and an output which delivers a predictable result. A CSR Report is, after all, not just a report. It is a story. A story of how PEOPLE are doing sustainable business. Even chemistry labs need people.
However, my review concludes that:
Dow appears to have integrated a sustainability mindset into its core business, with product development driven with sustainability aspects at the fore, such as solar solutions and photovoltaics, water solutions for sustainable drinking water, a system to reduce usage of solvents and much more. The company seems to be doing great at sustainability. Now it's time to put the chemistry set back in the box and take a broader view of how the company's reporting can serve a wider range of stakeholders and truly assist Dow in leveraging its core sustainability strengths and key material issues.
If you want to read the full review, complete with my recommendations for The Dow Chemical Company's future reporting, go to CorporateRegister.com. But don't just take my word for it, take a look yourself and send DOW your feedback :)
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing reponsible business practices . Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en (BeyondBusiness, CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)