This guest editorial is by Andrew N. Liveris, chairman and chief executive officer of Dow Chemical and recipient of the 2013 International Palladium Medal of the Société de Chimie Industrielle. The essay is based on Liveris’ address at the International Palladium Medal Dinner on May 9 in New York City.
The chemical industry is built on a noble pursuit: Alfred Nobel’s pursuit, to be specific, and the works of Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and George Washington Carver, among many others. From raw material feedstocks like natural gas, this industry works at the intersections of the sciences to create products and technologies that touch people’s lives. But if we are honest, the story is not that simple. If it were so, our industry would have no trouble attracting positive attention, as well as all of tomorrow’s best and brightest minds.
Rather, the chemical industry is still misjudged, misaligned, and misrepresented—despite the world’s ballooning population and continuing globalization, both of which are making our work more exciting, more impactful, and more relevant to society than ever before.
That disconnect is partially our own fault. Over the decades, the chemical industry has not done enough to operate with transparency and to lead on matters such as sustainability, spawning legacy issues that we are still resolving today. We got to where we are now by evolving through what I call the four Ds—from defiance of those who called attention to problems concerning safety, pollution, and sustainability to denying their claims to debating them. And now, we are engaged in a dialogue.
This experience has convinced us of the need to engage business, government, and civil society in a “golden triangle of partnership” to set smart and effective regulations and policies. It has taught us that being a sustainable enterprise is not a digital, either/or, opt-in/opt-out exercise. It is a mandate, a key element of our license to operate.
Today our industry has embraced this shift through programs like Responsible Care, a global, industry-led effort to ensure that the business of chemistry is safe, secure, and sustainable. And we are focused on innovating and commercializing products that meet humanity’s needs, as well as those of our planet, enabling ample food, clean water, and smart infrastructure. In all, the chemical industry provides input to more than 95% of the world’s manufactured products.
Through our actions and our innovations, we can drive our global industry to a place where the average person on the street understands the importance of our work, and that is critical. Because survival was, and still is, about how well we can attract the top talent of the next generation.
Our task today is to make our companies’ work a beacon for the best and brightest and to hire into our industry those young women and men from leading universities around the globe. To do so, we must spread the word that chemistry will not only play a role in solving our world’s greatest challenges, but importantly, that its role will be indispensable.
Chemistry is what allows and enables all sciences to create, together, something more magical and more meaningful than the sum of its parts. At its best, chemistry is the bridge between biology and physics, between materials science and electronics. It facilitates the transition from ideas to application, from possibility to progress. I was attracted to Dow because of the exciting possibilities that this company could create for me. For the next generation of young chemists, young leaders, and young engineers, we have to innovate in order to sustain that excitement.
Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Those of us in industry today have benefited greatly from the technological prowess of previous generations. And we should humbly accept our responsibility to build on the noble pursuit to create more prosperous companies and a more sustainable future for those who will follow. After all, it is the next generation of leaders—today’s young chemists, engineers, scientists, and business leaders—who will continue chemistry’s renewal and reinvention for the good of humanity and the planet.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.