In the past couple of years, the stock market has not been kind to DuPont, 3M, and Chemours, three giants of the global chemical industry. Between January 2018 and September 2020, DuPont’s shares fell 45%, 3M’s dropped 31%, and Chemours’s plummeted 59%. That’s a combined decline in value of about $80 billion.
The tumble is the result of the contamination crisis caused by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), of which 3M and DuPont, and then the DuPont spin-off Chemours, were major producers. The PFAS case is an extreme example—magnified by billions of dollars in potential liabilities and an unusually high profile in the media—of the effect environmental destructiveness can have on a firm’s stock market value.
On a less conspicuous but wider scale, the relationship between chemical companies and investors is being shaped by ESG investing: investors’ consideration of environmental, social, and governance factors alongside financial ones when they make investment decisions.
The practice of responsible investing began in the 1960s when investors excluded stocks or entire industries—such as tobacco or businesses involved in South Africa’s apartheid regime—from their portfolios.