IHS Chemical Week


Dow Olympic Wrap Shrouded in Criticism; too Much Looking Back - or Not Enough Looking Forward? (update)

8:49 AM MDT | August 17, 2011 | By ALEX SCOTT

Dow Chemical in the past few days unveiled plans to wrap the London 2012 Olympic athletics stadium in material. The wrap will be comprised of 336 panels each 25 meters tall by 2.5 meters wide. Although Dow gets to show its logo on the panels up until June 26, 2012, after that point the panels will feature an artistic design. No logos are allowed at the Olympics during the event itself.

The panels are made from polyester with a coating of low density polyethylene. After their use at the stadium the panels may be repurposed as shelters for refugees, says Keith Wiggins, head of Dow in the U.K.

Not everyone is impressed however; U.K. newspaper the Express on Sunday carried a story titled “Olympic Stadium “is Stained by the Blood of Bhopal’”. The reference is of course back to the the 1984 accident at Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant when a methyl isocyanate (MIC) leak killed more than 3,500. Dow purchased Union Carbide several years ago and with it the burden of any outstanding blame for the accident.The Express highlights continuing claims for compensation from Dow from victims. Dow has said that the $470million compensation settlement reached by Union Carbide in 1989 was final. 

Since writing this article more newspapers, it has become apparent that other news sources including the Financial Times and India Today have been reporting that there is growing outrage among some sectors of the community in India about Dow Chemical's involvement in the Olympic games.

Back in London and Dow Chemical says it has lots of exciting sustainable technologies to show off at the games and that it can demonstrate just how sustainable the company really is. The material for the wrap was selected after being assessed for its environmental performance. Some environmental experts I have talked to are not particularly impressed by the Wrap material, however.

“We are working on the reuse part [for the wrap material] and we haven’t got the final details yet,” Wiggins tells CW. “The type of opportunities we are working on are areas such as refugee shelter provision using it as a type of tenting material.

“The ultimate end point for all these raw materials is to take the calorific value out of it,” Wiggins says. In other words it could be burnt. 

This is hardly an innovation and means that the material’s life as refugee tents – if indeed it is to be reused in this way - is merely a stop-off to what would be an unsustainable end point.

Dow has said it will use the games to show off the sustainability of its products – and it has some great stuff it can put the spotlight on, such as its photovoltaic shingles – but perhaps there wasn’t enough sustainable innovation in the wrap to really convince the public that it is serious about this?

Arguably, unveiling a truly innovative material, a recycling system for an existing material - or even showing off the design for the proposed refugee shelter - would have given an insight into the high sustainability performance of Dow that is widely recognized across the chemical industry.

Whatever your take on whether looking back at Bhopal is the right thing to do, arguably, when it comes to the wrap, perhaps a system with a stronger sustainability profile would have really shown off the company’s forward thinking.


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