Science. Applied to Life.

Monday 8 June 2015, by Arian Khansari, Julie Thai

6 inspired

A. The main facts about the activities of the company.

3M, formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, is a global innovation company focused on providing products that improve daily life for hundreds of millions of people around the world. It is a science-based company that produces over 55,000 imaginative products that are industry-leading across a variety of sectors, including healthcare, adhesives, and highway safety. The company has even produced products that make driving at night easier, improved building safety, and introduced lighter, less energy-intensive consumer products. The key to the company’s business activities is applying their innovative technologies to a wide array of real-world consumer needs. For example, two of 3M´s most notable and well-known products are Scotch Tape and Post-It Notes.

To achieve these goals, the firm serves customers through five main business groups, including Consumer, Electronics and Energy, Healthcare, Industrial, and Safety and Graphics. By sharing technological, manufacturing, and marketing knowledge between groups, 3M is able to achieve operational synergies that enable it to deliver high-quality yet sustainable products.

For 3M, its business activities also go hand-in-hand with its values, which are a core part of the company’s day-to-day activities. These values include:

  1. Act with uncompromising honesty and integrity in everything we do.
  2. Satisfy our customers with innovative technology and superior quality, value and service.
  3. Provide our investors an attractive return through sustainable, global growth.
  4. Respect our social and physical environment around the world.
  5. Value and develop our employees’ diverse talents, initiative and leadership.
  6. Earn the admiration of all those associated with 3M worldwide.

B. The Ethical challenges this company is addressing.

Given the wide variety of products that the company manufactures, it is addressing many different sustainability issues simultaneously. First and foremost is 3M´s mission to reduce the negative environmental footprint of any chemicals-related operations it is involved in. This process began with its elimination of PFCs after the emergence of scientific studies in indicating that the chemicals were toxic. However, the company has also taken a proactive approach in identifying other arenas where it can use its massive influence to improve shared global needs. 3M has recognized that as the population grows, particularly in emerging economies, it has the ability to create lasting global change for the better. Consequently, the firm has tackled ethical issues involving energy availability and security, raw material scarcity, human health and safety, education, and development to ensure healthy, fulfilling lives for people worldwide.

In fact, many of these challenges are specifically addressed in 3M´s 2015 Sustainability Goals, almost all of which were achieved. For example, the company improved energy efficiency by 25% indexed to net sales since 2005, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 5% indexed to net sales since 2006, reduced volatile air emissions by 15% indexed to net sales since 2010, reduced waste 10% indexed to net sales since 2010, and reviewed over 80% of supplier spend in top-10 high-risk countries for alignment with 3M supplier policy and standards. Consequently, it is clear that the company´s initiatives are intended to benefit not only the United States, but also developing countries globally who are in more at-risk situations.

C. What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it?

The driving force behind our belief in the company’s sustainability mission is not the words on its website, but rather the measureable steps it has taken to actually achieve meaningful progress. In other words, unlike many other companies who simply produce ¨sustainability reports ¨for the sake of PR, 3M has indicated in numerous ways that it truly embraces its ethical standards. Although the Ethisphere Institute, the global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices, this year named 3M the World’s Most Ethical Company for the second time, it is important to explore the various factors that led to this distinction.

Firstly, a telling initial indicator is the fact that the company’s management has made a concerted effort to make ethics part of 3M´s culture. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Corporate Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) Committee, which spearheads many of the firm’s sustainability initiatives, is part of the Corporate Operating Committee that reports directly to the CEO. Furthermore, the CEO himself in conjunction with the EHS Committee decide on important ethics and sustainability-related issues for 3M. That corporate social responsibility is not headed by a Public Relations individual, and instead is overseen directly by the CEO, indicates that is a key component of the company’s culture and values.

Interestingly, this approach and mindset has been a part of the 3M mindset for decades. In 1999, the EPA began investigating a class of chemicals known as PFCs that were heavily used in 3M processes. After they were labeled as toxic and environmentally detrimental, in less than a year 3M eliminated all PFCs from their production processes. In fact, in 1975, the firm was one of the first major manufacturing companies to actively address environmental issues.

More recently, 3M has also implemented programs and adjustments that are in-line with its stated sustainability values. It has involved its employees through its benchmark program Pollution Prevention Pays, motivated employees to volunteer over 300,000 hours on an annual basis, and introduced a “15%” culture that allows workers to use 15% of their time to pursue any problem-solving insights. It also created the Renewable Energy Division within its Industrial and Transportation Business to focus on Energy Generation and Energy Management in 2008.

In addition, the fact that 3M prides itself on transparency with respect to its sustainability goals also speaks volumes about its commitment to ethics. More specifically, in its sustainability report, the company highlights how it failed to achieve one of its 8 primary 2015 goals, which was to reduce waste by 10% indexed to net sales since 2010. Instead of adjusting their numbers or reporting a different “interpretation” of this goal to make it achievable, the company chose to present an accurate and realistic view of its progress to-date. This level of transparency and honesty helps reaffirm that ethics and sustainability aren´t merely buzzwords for the company; rather, they are very serious objectives that must be constantly evaluated.

Lastly, one of the most important indicator´s of 3M´s serious approach to ethics is its long-term goal-setting strategy. The company currently has a set of listed goals that stretch out to 2025, meaning that is is always thinking about ways to create long-term, meaningful adjustments in its business activities to change the world for the better. It is perhaps this long-term approach that has allowed 3M to obtain the EPA EnergyStar “Sustained Excellence” recognition for 10 years in a row, the longest streak of any company in history and the only company to ever receive this award 10 times. This forward-thinking strategy allowed the firm to implement 252 projects that resulted in savings of $8.79 million and 61,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Ultimately, it is clear that 3M truly believes that its reputation does not solely depend on financial performance, but instead also relies on the way its business is operated and managed.

D.The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

Although 3M has made considerable strides in recent years and has clearly embraced sustainability as part of its corporate culture, there are still many challenges that it needs to overcome. As of August 2013, 3M was ranked 89th by the Political Economy Research Institute’s (PERI) list of the top-100 corporations emitting air pollutants in the US. In addition, as recently as 2010, 3M was sued by the state of Minnesota for contaminating waters with chemicals from some of its flagship products. Even today, some experts believe that substances used in some 3M products are detrimental to both human health and the environment. Given the necessary use of chemicals in the company’s manufacturing processes, reducing its level of air pollution and chemical waste will likely be its greatest challenge moving forward.

Still, the company can continue to implement measures to help itself improve. Firstly, since it is fundamentally a science-based company, 3M has the ability to work towards improving the chemical makeup of its products as well as to invent new materials which serve the same functions but in a more sustainable way through extensive research and development. Consequently, the first step forward is to dedicate sizeable funds to R&D efforts aimed at increasing sustainability and lowering the environmental footprint of products. Secondly, 3M can help lead the entire industry in the right direction by being an outspoken proponent of legislation aimed at benefiting and preserving the environment. As a global leader in many industries, it has the influence to be able to convince others to adopt a similar mindset towards ethics, and to embrace political changes that might be financial detrimental for the firm but beneficial for the world as a whole. This is the next big step for 3M - to expand its focus on sustainability to other large firms. By spreading this culture outside of the firm itself, the company will be able to multiply the resulting benefits manyfold and create lasting, impactful change globally.










Location: St. Paul (United States)

Sector: Mining and quarrying, Manufacturing

Official website: http://www.3m.com/

Key figures:

1. 2014 Annual Revenue: 31.82 billion USD

2. International (Non-US) Revenue: 23.1 billion USD (63% of total sales)

3. 2014 Annual Net Income: 4.96 billion USD

4. Number of Employees: 88,000

5. Countries of Operations: Operates in more than 70 countries, sells products in more than 200 countries

Nbr. visits: 3249

Nbr. inspires: 6