The Call to Action

An examination of the boards of the companies in the chemical sector of the 2004 Dow Jones Sustainability Index demonstrates the importance of the corporation identifying, selecting, and retaining directors with backgrounds and demonstrated personal commitment to the tenets of sustainable development. While there are sustainability experts within the organization who may be held accountable for execution of sustainable business strategies, the board must be involved in shaping sustainable development initiatives and monitoring corporate progress during the journey along the continuum towards sustainability.

Commitment and corporate performance in sustainability in the chemical industry requires leadership at the corporate governance level. Corporations that wish to take leadership roles in shaping industry's response to societal demands for a more sustainable business approach must engage their board of directors and make a public commitment to drive towards sustainability. They must overcome past disregard for long-term corporate and societal sustainability by engaging their governance bodies in setting a sustainability agenda. Weak leadership and complacent boards of directors must be educated and engaged, or face demands from stakeholders to be replaced by executive champions and committed boards. For a corporation to be recognized as a leader in sustainable development, an executive- or director-level champion must emerge who can engage and involve the board in the definition and implementation of a strategy of sustainability. Sustainability requires alignment between espoused corporate positions and the actions and behaviors of the individuals who comprise the governance body and leadership of the corporation. This combination provides internal and external influences on the strategies and initiatives that support sustainable development. Leadership of sustainability initiatives must come from executives and board members. It is the responsibility and obligation of the corporate directors to ensure the sustainability of their organization and the society in which they operate.

The complex interplay required by industry, government, and society at large will require the leadership of many - not just leaders of businesses, but also governmental, religious, and civil leaders. The chemical industry has a unique role to play because of its impact on economic and environmental issues. It can play a bigger role to enhance societal well-being for a broad array of stakeholders. Sustainable development requires leaders with a holistic systems perspective and who can appreciate and contribute to the resolution of the global issues of sustainable development. It is precisely this global purview that positions the boards of directors of the world's multinational chemical firms as ideal candidates to accept this leadership role.

Executives and directors in the chemical industry must recognize the breadth of their responsibility. "Sustainability is not just about managing the corporation. It is about leading society, industry, and government towards a sustainable future" (Holliday et al., 2002).

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