As a global manufacturing conglomerate, 3M makes more than 55,000 business, industrial and consumer products, including household names like Post-it Notes and Scotch-Brite. It is one of thousands of corporations working to meet global sustainability targets to improve their environmental impact. Gayle Schueller, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer for 3M, explains how that shapes everything from research and development to marketing.
Kate MacArthur: Among global nations, Americans are consistently among the least concerned about climate, sustainability issues and plastic waste.
Gayle Schueller: According to our 2021 State of Science Index — and we've worked with Ipsos on that — 88% of Americans believe climate change is real versus that 93% globally. While it is lower, it is still very high. Climate change is becoming increasingly personal. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say that they're concerned that they or a loved one may one day be displaced due to extreme weather related to climate change.
MacArthur: How does that affect how manufacturers set priorities for reducing raw material use?
Schueller: For 3M, every new product we launch must have a sustainability value commitment. But I recognize we are closer to the beginning than the end on that. That can range from helping our customers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to recyclability, to incorporating materials that are either renewable or plant-based recycled content, then ways that we can reinvent the product for a longer lifespan.
MacArthur: Even if Americans don’t prioritize it, how do you “do what’s best” for the planet and humanity anyway?
Schueller: If you look at any country around the world, including the United States, there’s fast turnover of presidencies, administrations and so on. So, companies have a really important role for taking a long-term view. I won’t say that our day-to-day decisions are all based on the decades-long view, but it's something that we're very aware of and something that we’re very conscious of if we want to be around and thriving 100 years from now, or even 50 years from now. We need to be making longer-range decisions right now.
MacArthur: We always talk about living better through science but there can be an environmental impact from that science. How do you determine how things are affecting the planet during your innovation cycle?
Schueller: As part of every new product we launch, we have a lifecycle management approach where we are looking at both the current and emerging scientific literature and the regulations. It can also come from things where the performance of recycled content is working better. And we can switch to a material that is either plant-based or based from a certain type of recycled content.
MacArthur: We asked consumers across a number of categories about purchase drivers and frankly, the consumer population ranked a lot of these other decision drivers higher than sustainability.
Schueller: We cannot expect that the broad base of consumers is going to be picking products for sustainability as their top one, two or even three pieces. People are buying a product for a specific function. In my experience, for most consumers, if the other factors are even, they're going to pick the more sustainable product.
MacArthur: How do you communicate with consumers to help motivate them to buy sustainable?
Schueller: We want to make sure that we're making the products that customers want to have. And then along with that, helping them see the sustainability attributes that we have. But it's not like someone's going to go out and choose a Post-it Note because it's sustainable. They're choosing a Post-it Note to help them communicate. They're choosing a Scotch-Brite scouring sponge to help them clean their kitchen. And if it doesn't work effectively, they end up wasting lots of materials. That's a worse sustainability strategy than having used one in the first place.
MacArthur: Is there one sustainability target you're hoping the company can achieve with consumers?
Schueller: We have about 15 of them set to mature in 2025. Some we’re making great progress on; some are more challenging. From a 2030 perspective, I'm super excited that we've done the math, and we see the path for us to take what we've already done in terms of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions over 70% from 2002, and then reduce it by an additional 50% by 2030. That's my big milestone that I'm looking forward to.