Above all else, corporate executives want us to believe they are
civilized people who mean well. Perhaps they are, but it doesn't seem
to matter. Take the case of DuPont.
DuPont is one of world's leading firms with 1989 sales of $35.2
billion. Founded in 1802, DuPont operates 85 chemical plants in the
U.S. and many others overseas. They have 143,000 employees worldwide.
Their slogan says they produce "better things for better living" and
during the past year or so they've been running an award-winning TV ad
with penguins and seals clapping, and whales and dolphins dancing, all
celebrating DuPont's environmental record. But there's a deep and
abiding dark side to this leading corporate citizen.
It was 1974 when two chemists in California published a technical paper
predicting that certain chemicals invented by DuPont
(chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs) would float upward in the atmosphere and
begin to destroy the Earth's ozone shield, 10 to 15 miles up in the
sky. The Earth's ozone shield is a thin layer of peculiar oxygen
molecules (O3 instead of normal O2) which filter out deadly ultraviolet
rays streaming in from the Sun. People have known for a long time that
ultraviolet light is a powerful germ-killing disinfectant. Scientists
now understand that life on land was impossible until the Earth's ozone
shield developed 450 million years ago. Until the ozone shield
developed, life had to stay in the sea because ultraviolet radiation
killed anything that ventured up onto the beach.
For these reasons, scientists in 1974 knew that loss of Earth's ozone
shield would be a real catastrophe threatening to make Earth
uninhabitable for humans. The nation's scientific establishment soon
began studying the situation. By 1976 the National Academy of Sciences
(NAS)--the most prestigious body of scientists in America--announced
their conclusion that CFC use was most likely going to lead to a 7%
loss of the earth's ozone shield--a chillingly large change in a
fundamentally important ecosystem. DuPont said, "Prove it" and
continued CFC production, full steam ahead. In 1979 NAS revised its
estimate to a 16.5% ozone loss. That year DuPont produced another 450
million pounds of CFCs and distributed them into the environment. From
1974 through 1985 DuPont's CFC production held steady at 450 million
gallons per year and its corporate position on ozone loss remained
unchanged: nothing has been proven, full steam ahead.
Meanwhile NASA (U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
scientists were looking for measurable loss of Earth's ozone shield.
Since 1970, NASA had had satellites (Nimbus 4 and later Nimbus 7) 600
miles above the earth peering down making ozone measurements. But the
satellites reported no ozone loss.
Then in 1985 a British scientist named Joe Farman announced he'd
recorded a 40% loss of ozone over the south pole and he revealed that
his data had begun showing ozone depletion as early as 1977. Farnam had
a tiny research program (funded by the British government at $18,000
per year--yes, 18 thousand, not 18 million) that had operated an
instrument at the South pole for 25 years measuring ultraviolet
radiation striking the ground.
The news stunned NASA scientists whose multi-million-dollar satellites
had still found nothing. It turned out NASA's satellites had been
collecting data every year showing an ozone hole growing ominously, but
NASA scientists had programmed their computers to ignore low readings
because they "knew" such readings resulted from faulty instruments, not
from a real ozone hole. They had the data but they had programmed their
computers to ignore it. After Farnam published his findings, our rocket
scientists reviewed many years of Nimbus data and found that, yes, the
ozone hole had been visible for years, but they had simply missed it.
By the time NASA finally found it, the ozone hole was much larger than
the area of the United States and taller than Mount Everest. It was
such a huge hole that it would have been visible from as far away as
planet Mars if anyone had been there to look.
Each year since 1985, the ozone depletion problem has gotten worse.
Many scientists have created mathematical models to predict the rate at
which ozone loss will occur. All such models have been wrong. Each year
the measured losses have been greater than mathematical models
Just last month the world received three new items of bad news about
loss of the ozone shield. A panel of 80 scientists, gathered under the
auspices of the United Nations, announced that ozone destruction is
proceeding three times as fast as it did during the 1970s, and they
said they expect the accelerated rate to hold throughout the 1990s.
No one had predicted this destructive acceleration. The same group also
announced ozone loss can now be measured not only over the south pole
but also, much more ominously, over the mid-latitudes where the U.S.
mainland sits. And, finally, they said ozone loss can now, for the
first time, be measured during spring and summer, when the Sun's rays
are strongest, when most people are outdoors and when many people are
intentionally basking in the Sun.
In April, 1991, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tripled its
earlier estimate of the number of skin cancers that ozone loss will
cause in U.S. citizens. During the next 50 years, EPA said in April,
ozone loss will cause 12 million skin cancers, causing 200,000 deaths.
Worldwide, a billion (a thousand million) skin cancers are expected to
result from ozone depletion, including 17 million deaths over the next
50 years. And these figures will need to be revised upward in light of
the U.N. scientists' October revelations. It is now clear that DuPont
scientists have unleashed a human catastrophe that dwarfs all previous
chemical disasters. And it is also clear that DuPont's corporate policy
is to continue to produce killer chemicals as long as possible,
resisting all efforts to bring the earliest achievable end to this
This year DuPont is still pumping 450 million pounds of CFCs into the
atmosphere, full steam ahead. In 1989, DuPont conducted a campaign
opposing CFC phase-out legislation in the U.S. Senate. In 1990 DuPont
Chief Executive Officer Ed Woolard said, "In my opinion it has not been
proven that CFCs are harmful to ozone...." In 1991 DuPont executives
took pains to block a shareholder resolution that called for a phaseout
of CFC manufacture by 1995.
Because of rising social pressure, DuPont has said it intends to phase
out CFCs but the timetable remains in doubt. Meanwhile DuPont has
already built factories to produce CFC substitutes called HCFCs.
Unfortunately, HCFCs also deplete the ozone shield, though more slowly
In addition, one of the new CFC substitutes, HCFC-123, has now been
found to cause tumors on the pancreas and testicles of rats. DuPont's
position is that the tumors on rats' testicles didn't actually KILL any
of the rats, and besides humans wouldn't ordinarily be exposed to the
chemical in concentrations as high as the rats encountered. DuPont is
now aggressively marketing HCFC-123. Full steam ahead....
What must be clear from all this is that corporations like DuPont
cannot act responsibly because they have no real incentive to do so.
Furthermore, government, even if staffed by intelligent, well-meaning
people including large numbers of rocket scientists, cannot curtail the
blindness and hubris of a multinational juggernaut like DuPont whose
only legally-defined mission is to return a profit to shareholders.
The world's best hope is a citizen's movement bent on reforming the
heart of the beast: the corporate charter. The charter is the legal
document that gives a company like DuPont the right to exist. If its
charter contained language decreeing that it must "Do no harm," DuPont
today would stand in real danger of losing its right to exist. This,
more than anything else, would get the attention of corporate
executives and civilize their behavior.
 Jack Doyle, HOLD THE APPLAUSE; A CASE STUDY OF CORPORATE
ENVIRONMENTALISM AS PRACTICED AT DUPONT (Washington, DC: Friends of the
Earth, August, 1991). $5.00 plus $3.00 shipping from: Carla Gaffey,
Friends of the Earth, 218 D Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003; phone
 Sharon Roan, OZONE CRISIS; THE 15-YEAR EVOLUTION OF A SUDDEN GLOBAL
EMERGENCY (NY: John Wiley and Sons, 1989).
William K. Stevens, "Summertime Harm To Shield of Ozone Detected
Over U.S.," NEW YORK TIMES October 23, 1991, pgs. A1, A11. See also R.
Monastersky, "Summer ozone loss detected for the first time," SCIENCE
NEWS Vol. 140 (November 2, 1991), pg. 278, and R. Monastersky,
"Antarctic ozone hole sinks to a record low," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 140
(October 19, 1991), pgs. 244-245.
 Richard Grossman and Frank Adams, "Dog Days at Company
Headquarters," E MAGAZINE Vol. 2, No. 6 (Nov./Dec., 1991), pgs. 46-47.
Interested in ways to civilize corporate behavior? Contact Grossman and
Adams at P.O. Box 3242, Boston, MA 02101.
Descriptor terms: corporations; dupont; cfcs; ozone depletion; nasa;
skin cancer; hcfcs; corporate charters;