Most companies have a general sustainability goal. However, 3M Co. is upping its green game by requiring every new product to have a sustainability component.
That means designers and those who make the products must develop a goal on how the products or 3M factories producing them reduce waste, energy, water or material usage — or how the products can help customers achieve those reductions.
The effort, announced at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland early Wednesday, is expected to touch each of the roughly 1,000 new products 3M introduces each year.
"We've made such significant progress on the 2025 sustainability goals we set in 2015, that we're raising the bar," said Gayle Schueller, 3M's vice president and chief sustainability officer, in a phone interview from the Poland conference.
Jeff Standish, corporate sustainability manager at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, said what 3M is doing "sounds like a very comprehensive approach" that starts at the R&D level to create "chainwide assessment of how they are designing, developing, manufacturing and marketing [every new] product. They are starting from the drawing board, not just with products that have already been in development."
The quantifiable sustainability goals for each new product will be established early in the research and development process, 3M officials said.
The Maplewood-based company spends about 6 percent of its $32 billion in annual revenue on R&D, leaders said.
"Sustainability is at the core of 3M, but we're looking to do more," said John Banovetz, 3M's chief technology officer. The company will report annually on its progress.
Schueller said one of its newest "aggressive targets" means that 3M will newly use only recycled plastics to make its Scotch-Brite scrub sponges. 3M already achieved that goal in Brazil. In 2019, the change will roll out worldwide.
Other efforts are likely to involve the expanded use of 3M energy-efficient window films, air filters and roofing granules and adoption of new sustainability tracking processes inside 3M plants.
Officials acknowledged the new commitments will require changes to some 3M factories and supply chains, but would not disclose how much money the new effort will cost.
3M's effort joins a growing trend in which industrial manufacturing giants such as Ecolab, General Mills, Toro, Pentair and Tennant Co. embrace formal sustainability programs and issue reports tracking achievements such as water or energy savings.
Standish, of the U, noted that companies such as General Mills created a process to track and measure how they get corn and wheat from around the world and what the social and environmental impacts are on their supply chains. "There is quite a bit of activity around that."
Standish said that as 3M expands its own program and creates a larger reporting structure, it will probably rely on the United Nations' sustainable development goals or other industrywide reporting mechanisms. He noted that 3M is already part of the 32-member Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, along with the U's institute.