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Environmental Sustainability at 3M

3M, originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, a company known for innovation and the development of new products, has also had foresight in the need to use energy efficiently and operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. 3M first formed its Energy Management Department back in 1973, and began articulating its environmental goals in the early 1990’s. By 2008 the company had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 62% compared to the 1990 level. Volatile air emissions and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) releases had been reduced by 95%. The company had also cut its solid wastes by 64%.

Pollution Prevention Pays

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Recognized as a pioneer in corporate pollution prevention, 3M launched its “Pollution Prevention Pays” program in 1975 and by 2005 the program had prevented more than 2.9 billion pounds of pollutants and had saved nearly $1.2 billion. The program is designed to prevent pollution at the source through product reformulation, process modification, equipment redesign, and the recycling and reuse of waste materials.

Managing the environmental effects of products

In 1998, 3M initiated its product life cycle management program. In addition to reducing the environmental effects and energy consumption in the manufacturing process, 3M focuses on its products throughout their life cycle, through their use and final disposal by customers. The company offers its customers different catalogs of products designed to minimize environmental impacts. These catalogs include products designed to address environmental challenges in the cleaning and maintenance, construction and industrial production, communications, office supplies, transportation, and health care markets.

To be included in 3M’s Environmental Solutions catalog, products must help customers reduce their environmental footprint. This involves products that reduce air pollution, reduce energy use and/or greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste, reduce water use or pollution, reduce or prevent disturbance of the environment, or that clean up industrial pollution. 3M products with a reduced environmental footprint include products manufactured using a process with solvents that have a low level or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and products that are made with recycled content. 3M is working on an initiative to use renewable materials as replacements for petroleum-based polymers and monomers in its films, fibers, adhesives and molded products, among others.

3M is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment’s Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative. This initiative promotes the development and use of surfactants that break down quickly in the environment. 3M designed a way to produce a film used as the base material for X-ray film using recycled scrap material. 1.9 million pounds of scrap material were reused in the production of blue X-ray film the first year, saving $300,000 in material costs and landfill fees.

3M developed a water-based adhesive for furniture companies that eliminated from 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of solvents the first year and reduced waste disposal since it has a higher coverage than flammable foam adhesives. The company developed a halogen-free computer cable insulation that has a lower toxicity and that generates less smoke and smoke that is less acidic and corrosive than halogenated insulation in the event of a fire.

3M is also working to reduce packaging waste through redesign, reuse, recyclability, and improving cube utilization, which refers to maximizing the space used within a storage area, trailer or container. These efforts have resulted in a reduction in the energy used to produce packaging materials, lower transportation costs and emissions, and lower space requirements for storage and disposal.

Reducing waste

Reducing waste is 3M’s most important strategy for minimizing the environmental impact. As a result of the company’s initiatives, in 2008 over 5 billion pounds of waste were avoided through off-site reuse and over 2 billion pounds through on-site reuse and recycling. The company points out that preventing the generation of waste in the first place is a more sustainable approach, and 3M’s future focus will be primarily on pollution prevention, design changes in products and processes, and internal recycling and reuse programs.

Some examples of waste reduction in 3M include a project in its Irvine, California facility to turn platinum catalyst waste generated in the production of dental products into a raw material to be reused. The initiative saves over $100,000 and avoids over 1,000 tons of platinum waste each year. Redesigning the packaging of 3M’s Post-it® Flags, to eliminate the back card and the plastic blister cover saves over $350,000 and avoid 35 tons of waste annually.

In Taiwan 3M reformulated its carrier tape to be made of 100% recycled material, reducing the facility’s wastes by 120 tons the first year. In Germany and Japan, 3M facilities have eliminated all their landfill waste. The generation of waste was minimized through prevention, and the remaining waste is reused and recycled. Waste is incinerated only when reuse and recycling is not possible. This effort in Japan has resulted in an 83% reduction in total waste since the initiative began.

In Missouri, the 3M plant improved the yield of extruded PVC film by 14% through redesign, reducing waste by over 80 tons and saving 124 MMBTU in energy consumption the first year, also saving the company $350,000. In 3M’s Decatur, Alabama plant, instead of throwing away the edges of industrial film, the production line was redesigned to reuse the edge trim, avoiding 164 tons of waste and saving $336,000 the first year.

Biodiversity and conservation

Over the past few years the 3M Foundation has donated over $10 million to The Nature Conservancy to protect habitat and preserve biodiversity in the United States, Brazil, Mexico and China, including $1.5 million in 2007 to the Nature Conservancy’s Forest Legacy Partnership in Minnesota. The 3M Foundation has also made grants totaling $4 million for reforestation and the protection of endangered wildlife and threatened biodiversity in China.

Environmental sustainability as part of economic growth

3M’s environmental sustainability policy and strategy are part of its overall sustainability strategy of acting in a socially responsible manner, in accordance with its corporate values. These values include valuing and developing its employees, satisfying its customers with innovative technology and superior quality products, and providing its investors with an attractive return through sustainable, global growth. At 3M, environment sustainability is integrally linked with growth and prosperity. In 2008 the company employed more than 79,000 employees worldwide and generated $25.3 billion in net sales and $5.2 billion in operating income.

Sources:
Environmental, Social and Economic Sustainability – 3M
Environmental Solutions – 3M
Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) – 3M

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