Efficient energy use

Dow's amazing $7 billion profit on green

April 5, 2011: 11:25 AM ET

The company learned they had to accurately account for saving money in order to understand how they profit from green investments. Once they did, the figures were staggering.

Neil Hawkins of Dow Chemical

Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemical's vice president of sustainability. Credit: Russ Curtis

FORTUNE -- Making chemicals takes energy -- a lot of it -- so the mere fact that Dow Chemical (DOW) can save a lot of money by improving their energy efficiency is not what's surprising. It's just how much energy and cash they've saved that's jaw-dropping.

Dow Chemical says its green investments have saved 1.8 quadrillion British Thermal Units of energy since 1994 -- enough to power every home in California for 20 months.  Yes, those savings cost money to achieve, nearly $2 billion.  But they have so far generated over $9 billion in reduced energy costs, for a net profit topping $7 billion.

While there's no definitive list of the most profitable green investments in corporate America, its clear that Dow's huge cash savings and return on investment place it at or near the very top.

The key, says Neil Hawkins, Dow's vice president of sustainability, was first having a clear understanding of how to measure environmental improvements and then "building an economic understanding" of their effect on the company's financial results.  Dow reports a wide array of environmental measures every quarter. (In a related effort, Dow is spending $10 million in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy to tally up the ecosystem costs and benefits of every business decision.) More

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