Getting the Balance Right: 3M on Sustainability Goal-Setting – Sustainable Brands


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3M’s new climate goals culminate in climate neutrality by 2050. We talked with Gayle Schueller, 3M’s VP and Chief Sustainability Officer, to gain more insight into the company’s approach to the ‘balancing act’ of sustainability goal-setting.

Here at Sustainable Brands™, we’re thrilled by the growing wave of
companies that have been compelled to take definitive action to help avert a
global climate crisis. While the momentum is heartening, the resulting
commitments have been all over the

— some companies may feel pressure to keep up with the

and set bold, far-reaching climate targets; and others still might not know
where to start.

Last month, 3M joined the fray with a new set of
culminating in climate neutrality by 2050. We talked with Gayle Schueller,
3M’s VP and Chief Sustainability Officer, to gain more insight into the
company’s approach to the ‘balancing act’ of sustainability goal-setting.

Companies are feeling more and more pressure from investors and other external stakeholders to set bold climate goals — what did this process look like for 3M? How did your team go about choosing the key areas of impact?

Gayle Schueller: 3M has a long-standing commitment to the environment, and
creating a more sustainable future anchors purpose-driven innovation across our
portfolio. To help prioritize our efforts and focus our actions, we engage with
a variety of stakeholders on sustainability goals and progress. We conduct a
materiality study every two years to gain insights on what stakeholders believe
are 3M’s highest-risk areas, as well as our greatest opportunities to create
positive impact. We also conduct regular employee surveys to learn what they
think is most important and how 3M can maximize our positive impact. During the
development of our recently announced environmental goals, we conducted
strategic interviews with over 50 stakeholder groups — placing a particular
focus on customers in the healthcare, consumer, automotive and electronic
industries. Based on the collective insights from our stakeholder outreach, and
the global challenges our company felt were most pressing to address, we
prioritized new goals to reduce our carbon and water footprints.

Because we analyze our water use and carbon emissions at detailed levels across
our enterprise, we know there is significant overlap between our manufacturing
facilities with the largest water footprints and those with the largest carbon
footprints — as would be expected based on the carbon-water-energy nexus. By
using 3M science to advance decarbonization, reduce facility water use and
improve the quality of water we return to the environment, we believe we can
become a more effective and efficient business — ultimately driving future
growth. By continuing to advance our work in environmental stewardship and
sustainability, we will be able to meet the increasing expectations of our
customers, employees, investors and additional stakeholders, for whom we are
always trying to do more.

CEO Mike Roman has said that “social equity and justice” is an area that 3M will lead in as it continues to grow. What will this look like?

The role of business in the racial justice and equity movement

Hear more from some of the organizations, large and small, that are taking authentic action and making long-term, systemic commitments to creating diverse, equitable workforces at Just Brands ’21 — May 11-12.

GS: Following the killing of George Floyd, we listened intently to our
employees and community partners, and expanded our work to improve diversity,
equity and
We know this time must be different. We also know systemic change requires
resources and long-term dedication, so we created a new Equity & Community
organization within our enterprise. This group will support our goals and
commitments to advance equity in our workplaces, business practices, and
communities globally.

In the fall of 2020, we established the 3M Foundation Social Justice Fund
putting resources into organizations with a focus on legal justice, racial
equity and healing. We also formed the 3M Community Coalition, a group of
diverse leaders and organizations driving real change in our communities, who
will help direct 3M’s commitment of $50 million to address pressing challenges
and make the biggest impact.

To further accelerate racial equity and inclusion in our workplace and
communities, we are focusing on two platforms going forward: racial justice for
the future of work and empowering an inclusive
The former will address racial opportunity gaps through workforce development
initiatives, while the latter aims to eliminate internal systemic barriers and
empowers diversity and inclusion advocacy. As we move forward in this work, we
know transparency and accountability are paramount. It’s why we published our
first-ever Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Report in
February, and why we plan to openly share our progress on advancing social
equity and justice in this report each year. 

Between these new goals and your 2025 sustainability goals, which have been and/or will be most challenging for 3M to achieve?

GS: When 3M sets goals, they are rooted in science. We require ourselves to
develop the “math behind the path,” ensuring plans to achieve our goals are
based on current or emerging technologies. One of the exciting things about
science is that we’re always learning new things and evolving our assumptions
and hypotheses. When we set goals and achieve them early, as was the case for
our renewable energy goal, then we strive to do even more. In other cases, our
goals prove to be more challenging than anticipated.

As a manufacturing business with a global footprint and diverse product
portfolio, our path to carbon neutrality differs greatly from that of a retail,
finance or software company. With over

and sales in nearly every country, the commitment to reduce our carbon
footprint 50 percent by 2030 is a particularly challenging, yet important,
milestone. That being said, 3M does not set goals that are unattainable. For
more than 100 years, 3Mers have demonstrated that our ambition and our
innovation can overcome any challenge — and that same persistence will be
applied to advance carbon neutrality in our operations and supply chain.

As you are setting these targets, how do third-party certifications/approvals come into play? You share a lot of your data with CDP, for example – are you working with other partners to validate to your targets?

GS: 3M recognizes the importance of rigor in the scientific process and
we’ve set targets for sustainability based on science for decades — starting
with the Pollution Prevention Pays program in 1975; the 3M Air Emission
Reduction Program
in 1987; and our 2025 Sustainability
established in 2015. We regularly engage with groups like the World Resources
(WRI), the World Business Council for Sustainable
(WBCSD), and The Climate Group; as well as our own
scientists, to determine the best path forward. Beyond CDP, we report in
alignment with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability
Accounting Standards

(SASB), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Task Force on
Climate-related Financial Disclosures
(TCFD). We continue to evaluate new
certifications and frameworks as they emerge and evolve.

As the manufacturer of a diverse product portfolio, spanning virtually every
industry around the world, it can be challenging to align with programs
developed for a more specific business model or industry. It is important that
we continue to collaborate with customers and suppliers in the healthcare,
transportation, safety, manufacturing, consumer and electronics
industries to discuss and uncover best practices. We can then use these insights
to develop new strategies that deliver on our goals and actions as a global

What advice would you give to companies that may be reluctant to announce goals or feel pressure to set potentially unrealistic goals — in order to keep up with their competitors, for example – vs setting more conservative, more achievable targets (and risking criticism for not doing enough)?

GS: Like many things in life, setting sustainability goals is a balancing
act. By setting stretch goals, you can help drive much-needed progress against
the world’s greatest challenges; but to be credible, those stretch goals must be
rooted in science, accurate mathematical modelling and specific plans to achieve
them. We know that companies, governments and international organizations must
collaborate to successfully address major systemic challenges like climate
change and accessibility to clean
When companies set bold goals and have specific plans to achieve them, potential
partnership opportunities become clearer — increasing the probability and speed
of success.

As a science company, 3M believes that applying an innovation mindset to
challenges, spelling out the steps it takes to achieve them, and then holding
ourselves accountable to our goals helps us deliver on the promises we make. We
would advise others to first look at what is possible to achieve based on known
and emerging technologies; and then set about developing specific plans, project
timelines and impact analyses. Through this approach, you can focus on setting
the right goals for your company and its stakeholders, rather than setting
unrealistic goals that are based on what others may do.

Published Mar 24, 2021 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET

Sustainable Brands Staff

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