Using Ingenuity

There’s ‘No Better Time’ to Get Serious about Alternative Energy

18.05.2010 -

Global Player - Dow Corning's chairman, president and CEO, Dr. Stephanie Burns, has become something of a regular in Washington, D.C., where she works together with the nation's leaders on ideas to encourage innovation and to create more jobs in the chemical industry. But her efforts don't stop at the U.S. border; Dow Corning is internationally active, and Burns says she believes governments all over the world play an important role in helping accelerate emerging technologies, particularly in the area of alternative energy. Brandi Schuster asked her about her experiences in the U.S. capital, her company's activities in Europe and her vision for the renewable energy sector.

CHEManager Europe: As Dow Corning's CEO, you have been very active on the political scene in the U.S. Is there a palpable spirit of change in Washington, D.C.?

S. Burns: I have spent a lot of time in D.C. recently meeting with key legislators, the president and the vice president, among other influential leaders. On the topics most important to Dow Corning and the chemical industry, I do see a willingness to work together to find solutions that meet the government's goals of growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs, while encouraging businesses to innovate and invest in critical areas such as alternative energy.

What is corporate America's role in the revitalization of manufacturing in the U.S. and the creation of new jobs? What has Dow Corning been doing specifically to create more jobs in the U.S. and elsewhere?

S. Burns: The economic challenges facing the U.S., and frankly the entire globe, are daunting. However, now is a great time to be innovative and to use the ingenuity we have to solve some of these challenges. A perfect example is the topic of energy: With the challenges of energy security and climate change looming, combined with the need to grow the U.S. economy, there is no better time for the country to start to shift its thinking on energy and to really get serious about solar, wind and other alternative energy technologies that can help us create jobs and achieve a more secure domestic energy supply while reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Along those lines, what role do governments play? The U.S. has been active in this respect with initiatives such as the Middle Class Task Force - of which you are a member - and the Advanced Energy Tax Credit - from which Dow Corning has benefitted. Have you seen similar efforts in other countries where Dow Corning is active?

S. Burns: The government plays a critical role. I believe the government can make smart investments that will help the private sector accelerate innovation in these new emerging technologies (such as solar and wind energy), which will speed up the timeline in making some of these solutions more viable and sustainable for widespread use. These opportunities are similar in nearly every country around the globe. On the topic of energy, we've seen countries such as Germany who understood the opportunity that solar technology presents many years ago, and the country today enjoys a vibrant industry because of those investments.

Dow Corning recently expanded its Eastern and Central European operations with a new commercial office in Poland. How important is this region for your company?

S. Burns: Central Europe, and in particular Poland, is an attractive region with a resilient economy, skilled workforce and growing modern industry. We understand the region's growing importance in the global economy and want to ensure the benefits of Dow Corning's silicon-based materials and technology are easily available to help local businesses to grow and compete.

In conjunction with the new Poland office, Dow Corning has said it will seek collaboration opportunities in the region. How does your company see the concept of open collaboration?

S. Burns: The reason it is so important to Dow Corning to have a physical presence in regions such as Central Europe is because we know that the best way to build products and solutions that meet the needs of businesses and consumers there, we need to understand the culture and the dynamics of the region. We will collaborate with customers, academics and other innovators in the region who understand the unique needs and opportunities of Central Europe.

Can you pinpoint any regions that have already begun to recover from the worldwide recession, where Dow Corning is seeing growth?

S. Burns: Yes, many regions are recovering from the recession, and interestingly, emerging economies such as China, Korea, India, ASEAN and Latin America seem to be recovering faster than mature economies such as Japan, Europe and North America. It's clear that the economic environment is still volatile; however, we are seeing good signs of recovery throughout the globe.

Tell us why Dow Corning is convinced that the area of sustained, renewable energy is a sector where new jobs can be created. Where do you see the sector in 10 years?

S. Burns: There are many reasons Dow Corning is bullish on renewable energy, especially wind and solar, I'll give you a few. People throughout the globe are beginning to understand that alternative energies offer far more than environmental benefits. Solar and wind energy offer regions the opportunity to be less dependent on foreign energy supplies - a critical factor that is very important to many regions. And I also think that governments throughout the globe also see the economic opportunity that these alternative energies offer in terms of jobs growth and revenue. When you combine these three factors, the case for alternative energies becomes pretty clear. The final reason I'll share with you is that these technologies are so close to being economically competitive with traditional energy sources, in fact solar and wind is already competitive in some regions. With the tremendous amount of innovation and investment into this area, it will only be a short time until solar and wind energies are no more costly than traditional energy sources.

How competitive are environmentally friendly products compared to traditional ones? Is this an area in which it is necessary to have governmental subsidies for "green products" - or even bans on environmentally unfriendly products when a viable alternative is available?

S. Burns: There are many "green products" today that are economically competitive with traditional products. Many environmentally sustainable technologies have evolved in that they're not only good for the environment, but they also make great business sense and are creating revenue and jobs. What governments can do is to invest in these critical areas to help accelerate the innovation that needs to occur which is sometimes delaying some of these technologies from widespread use.

Dow Corning carefully observes its carbon footprint and develops products and materials to fight climate change. How much time do you think it will take consumers and industry to accept and use such products in place of traditional technologies? Where do you think the impetus for change will mainly come - from the consumer or from lawmakers?

S. Burns: As I said before, environmentally sustainable products have moved beyond simply being "good for the environment" and into a position where these technologies present fantastic opportunities for companies to create revenue and jobs. So I think the impetus is already coming from the end consumer, and businesses throughout the supply chain are following suit because they see the value and opportunity at hand.


Dow Corning Corp

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