No organization could be further from the image of the "tree hugger" than the world's largest chemical producer, Dow Chemical Company. Yet for all of industry's superficial acknowledgement of the need for environmental responsibility, no other organization has so completely focused on balancing financial, social and environmental results. Dow has incorporated a highly successful e-commerce strategy, not only for the benefits it can yield in business results, but also as part of its ongoing implementation and management of its Triple Bottom Line business model.
"The ocean will be dead in seven years!" So prophesied actor Ted Danson nearly 20 years ago in the environmental Chicken Little alarm that encouraged everyone to "save the earth." Clearly, the ocean is still alive, and even Ralph Nader has given up his campaign to rid Los Angeles of cars. Well-meaning but misinformed and misdirected groups and individuals so trivialized environmental issues that those with the means and ability to make real differences in essence tuned them out. Eventually, formerly left-leaning members of academia began to realize that no, society was not going to regress to horse-and-buggy days; and businesses must operate profitably if they are to remain in business and so benefit the local, regional and national economy. A conference held in North Carolina in 1982 was the first to address both extremes in an effort to arrive at workable solutions. By the early 1990s, the concept of the triple bottom line (TBL) had emerged. The TBL model recognizes that businesses must be profitable, but it measures their success in terms of social and environmental issues as well. Long-term goals of the TBL include bringing value to all stakeholders and achieving truly sustainable practices. The view of the TBL model at most organizations is that it is a "nice" gesture but not truly workable in the real world. Dow Chemical Company takes the opposite view, formally adopting the TBL business model in the mid-1990s. The purpose here is to assess Dow's management of its TBL strategy and to evaluate how it uses e-commerce as a strategy implementation tool. Strategic Issues
The Triple Bottom Line
Dow's first TBL business report in 1999 was the first to reflect that formal adoption of the model (Dow Releases First Triple Bottom Line' Report, 1999). The primary focus of business and its investors is that of the "bottom line," but the TBL also looks at other quantities and qualities that also are important for the long term. "At its narrowest, the term triple bottom line' is used as a framework for measuring and reporting corporate performance against economic, social and environmental parameters" (What is the Triple Bottom Line?). Dow Chemical uses a broader definition, however, one which is "used to capture the whole set of values, issues and processes that companies must address in order to minimize any harm resulting from their activities and to create economic, social and environmental value" (What is the Triple Bottom Line?). This broader definition expands to include all of the company's stakeholders "shareholders, customers, employees, business partners, governments, local communities and the public" (What is the Triple Bottom Line?) in all locations in which it operates. In this age of globalization and the rapid economic development of Third World countries, this concerted attention to sustainability and corporate social responsibility is doubly important. Many developing nations lack the strict environmental laws that exist in the United States and other developed nations, and the more unethical types have used many of these developing nations to practice sloppy manufacturing in favor of more profitable operations. Likely the most dramatic of the results of this type of approach to chemical manufacturing in developing nations remains the disaster that occurred at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal,...