Rio+20: Be Bold, With Speed, At Scale

Innovation and collaboration to create the future we want was the overarching theme at the Corporate Sustainability Forum, led by the UN Global Compact as a lead up to the official Rio+20 Conference.

There was real excitement and optimism about the major commitment that companies were making – many in collaboration with other companies, governments, and NGOs.  There were over a 100 sessions addressing everything from agriculture and food to energy and climate, water and ecosystems to urbanization and cities.  Clearly all of these areas intersect, but in each area there were unique focuses that allowed participants to dive into more details on the challenges and opportunities.

In the agriculture and food security sessions, discussions focused on what is meant and ultimately how we can intensify production sustainably at all levels, from the small holder to large farms.  Challenges were iterated:  land ownership, lack of extension services, engaging youth to choose farming as a career, protecting biodiversity and other ecosystem services, waste generation in transport, storage, and by consumers, diets and nutrition.  Solutions were proposed and discussed:  drip irrigation, expanding of extension services with “train the trainer” initiatives, companies working directly at farm level to improve their supply chains, the right technology for the right location including seeds, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals, and infrastructure development to name just a few.  Many noted that we cannot have a sustainable world if we don’t have a sustainable agriculture sector, which reinforced the need to find the examples that are working and to learn from what hasn’t worked so well.

The Business Action for Sustainable Development, a collation of organizations including the WBCSD, ICC, UN Global Compact, and CropLife, followed up with an all-day session focused on scaling up – developing big commitments and then have the willingness to implement.  In other words – Be Bold, With Speed, at Scale.  It looks like there will be an outcome document from the Rio+20 process.  Some will conclude that it doesn’t go far enough and others will be concerned that it has gone too far.  Either way, there will be an ongoing official process that will look at moving the world towards a green economy with sustainable development goals.  In the meantime, the private sector is challenged to come out of Rio ready to implement all the commitments we made and prove that the business of “business” is sustainable business.

Dawn Rittenhouse and others at Rio+20 2012

– by Dawn Rittenhouse

Dawn Rittenhouse is Director, Sustainabilty for the DuPont Company.  She joined DuPont in 1980 and has held positions in Technical Service, Sales, Marketing, and Product Management within the Packaging and Industrial Polymers business and Crop Protection businesses.   In late 1997, she began working in the corporate organization to assist DuPont businesses in integrating sustainability strategies into their strategy and business management processes.  She leads DuPont’s efforts at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the United Nations Global Compact.   Dawn has a double major in Chemistry and Economics from Duke University.

Energy Innovations for Food Security

According to the African Economic Outlook, only four percent of Africa’s population earns more than $10 a day.  That is hardly enough money to buy food for a family, let alone pay for the energy required to transport and prepare it. This is why DuPont has committed to work in the region, investing more than $3 million over the next three years to help smallholder farmers in Ethiopia achieve food security.

The Energy-Food Nexus

Energy usage has a direct impact on global food security. Achieving it in most African communities requires increasing both the productivity and sustainability of the farming system.  Due to a lack of access to reliable energy, farmers either cannot prepare and cultivate their land properly or cannot harvest, store and process their yield to maximize their return. The World Economic Forum recently hosted leaders from around the world in Ethiopia to discuss the significant transformation and monumental growth the African continent is experiencing and, specifically, the energy problem.  I was pleased to participate in the Ending Energy Poverty panel session which focused on solutions to provide electricity to the hundreds of millions of Africans that do not have regular access to affordable energy. While this discussion is important across public and private sectors, solutions are required today.

Solar Solutions Illuminate a Path Forward

DuPont is working on a variety of unique solutions and innovations to help resolve the energy crisis in Africa and around the world.  For example, DuPont’s Photovoltaic Solutionsprovide some of the world’s most innovative materials for improving solar technology. Some of the ways we think solar energy can be used to solve the energy problem for farming are:

  1. Photovoltaic-powered water pumping systems can meet crop irrigation, livestock watering and other domestic needs.
  2. Powering electric fans for air circulation. Modern pig and poultry farms double and even triple production by raising the animals in controlled environment buildings.
  3. Lighting agricultural buildings can significantly extend working hours and increase productivity.
  4. Solar powered cell phone charging stations can connect farmers with markets and other valuable resources.

Continuing New Investments in Agriculture

Even if we improve the energy situation, additional investments in agriculture are still required to address food production in Africa. DuPont is doing more in this area and has announced a number of new commitments including:

  1. Investing $2 million to expand seed production and storage facilities in Ethiopia.
  2. Investing $1 million over three years for a pilot project with the Earth Institute of Columbia University to create a rapid soil information system to aid Ethiopian farmers with an effective way to diagnose soil constraints in the field and receive recommendations to improve crop yields.
  3. DuPont’s Crop Protection business will work to develop a sulfonylurea weed control offering for wheat to improve productivity, bring novel insect control solutions for cotton and vegetables, and train farmers on the responsible use of crop protection products.
  4. Collaborating with USAID to upgrade agronomic practices and inputs of smallholder Ethiopian maize farmers and increase the profitability of their farms.

Ian Hudson - World Economic Forum on Africa 2012Together, with innovative solutions and investment, we can make a difference. DuPont already has sales in 35 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and employs more than 500 people on the continent. We have pledged to commit additional local resources to solving these issues for Africa, including recruiting local talent to run our research and operations in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, and ensure the solutions we develop are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.




Ian Hudson President – DuPont Europe, Middle East & Africa