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Ten years hence

Ten Points About Sustainability

February 13, 2009

On Feb. 13, 2009, Jean Sweeney, vice president of Environmental, Health, and Safety Operations at 3M Corp., presented “Sustainability: Past, Present, and Future from a Corporate View,” which contained the following excerpts: 

  • Sustainability is a globally recognized framework developed by the United Nations and commissioned for business to achieve environmental protection, social responsibility and economic success. 3M defines sustainability as meeting the needs of society today while respecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
  • Studies have shown that companies focused on sustainability outperform their peers by 50 percent or more in the marketplace.
  • Corporations are being viewed through the lens of sustainability. A University of California study of more than 800 MBA students from 11 leading North American and European schools found that a substantial number are willing to forego some financial benefits to work for an organization with a better reputation for corporate social responsibility and ethics.
  • 3M has made of priority of sustainability since 1975, when Dr. Joe Ling articulated the concept of pollution prevention. He created a Pollution Prevention Pays program for 3M, demonstrating that a company can save money by eliminating pollution at the source and by recycling and reusing waste materials.
  • Waste minimization is our most important strategy for our environmental footprint. 3M recycles or re-uses 24 times more waste than it disposes.
  • 3M’s strategy for reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions has resulted in a 62 percent reduction from 1990 to 2007.
  • Demand is on the rise for products that reduce energy usage or provide renewable energy. For example, 3M makes window film to reduce heating/cooling needs for homeowners and more than 100 products for the wind-energy industry.
  • Be wary of offers to purchase carbon offsets, such as when renting a car or attending a "carbon neutral" conference. Verify how your money is being spent to make sure the offer is valid.
  • Be aware that many companies engage in “greenwashing” – misleading claims that their products are eco-friendly. Wal-Mart is now asking to see verification of any “green” certification claims for products it sells.
  • We project there will be legislation to regulate greenhouse gases soon, and it will cost us an investment of some kind. We will look at how renewable energy develops and how we can produce products and solutions to meet those needs.

Jean Sweeney is vice president of Environmental, Health and Safety Operation at 3M Corp., based in St. Paul, Minn. Her assignments with 3M have included product development and manufacturing management. She has served as manufacturing director for 3M Australia and managing director of 3M Taiwan.


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