Can Dupont’s green chemistry pledge help wash away the PFAS disaster they created?
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Can Dupont’s green chemistry pledge help wash away the PFAS disaster they created?

A couple of weeks ago, chemical producing giant Dupont announced via a press release its new sustainability goals, including an ambition to design all of its products in line with the green chemistry principles.

Dupont is not the first company to realign its portfolio and introduce a heavier focus on sustainability. Earlier this year, we saw the Dutch company DSM announcing that it will cease the production of chemicals of concern in its resins and functional materials products.

Another example is Nouryon, which has also been pretty outspoken about its ambition to separate itself from the rest of the industry pack and walk the extra sustainability mile.

In addition to these three, ChemSec has seen a steady stream of invitations during the last five years from some of the world’s largest chemical producers, asking us to comment on their sustainability strategies.

I think it’s safe to say that we are currently experiencing a so-called megatrend within the chemical space that can be summarized as “out with the old – in with the new”.

Dupont, however, is a special case. The leadership has spent decades downplaying the risks involved with PFAS chemicals and the company is now entrenched in litigation, remediation costs and fines following the production of these “forever chemicals”.

“There aren’t many options left for Dupont but to announce a major turnaround”

Dupont are now trying various ingenious ways of passing on the blame to its spinoff company Chemours which, from an outsider perspective, plays out almost like a farce with old companions turning against each other.

Will Chemours eventually pick up the bill, or will it go bankrupt, or perhaps fire back? Well, the jury is still out so we just have to wait and see.

In this situation, where the current business model has reached the end of the road, there aren’t many options left for Dupont but to announce a major turnaround. I regard the PFAS problem as so severe, with more lawsuits on the horizon and new discoveries of PFAS contamination, that even a bankruptcy is possible.

“The announcement of Dupont’s 2030 sustainability goals is a first step in the right direction”

Is change feasible? Will people ever trust them again? Well, it depends on if the commitment to change is truly reflected in Dupont’s activities.

Other companies have made a turnaround from scandals before. The example of Siemens, which was exposed with several high-profile bribery affairs some ten years ago, comes to my mind.

The announcement of Dupont’s 2030 sustainability goals is a first step in the right direction. Reading it closely, however, I find flaws. Timed phase-out plans, including for short-chained PFAS, are not mentioned anywhere.

In my eyes, Dupont now needs to own up to its mistakes and take responsibility for polluting the environment and the citizens that live there. Half-hearted efforts and playing the blame game is not good enough, nor will outsourcing the problem do the company’s credibility any good.

The new strategy must include a phaseout of hazardous substances, including short-chained PFAS and any chemically related “cousins” that might have a new name but essentially share the same intrinsic properties as the substances they are designed to replace.

Only a complete turnaround can save the company morally. Time will tell if it’s financially possible.

sonja haider
Sonja Haider
Senior Business and Investors Advisor