Corporate sustainability is more important now than ever before. And success in sustainability often means a success in harnessing the latest science to meet a corporation’s goals. Recently, we caught up with Gayle Schueller, Chief Sustainability Officer for 3M, to learn her thoughts on the intersection of science and sustainability, and how 3M is reaching lofty goals using just that.
Why do you believe 2020 accelerated corporate climate and sustainability commitments?
The acceleration of sustainability commitments has been going on for quite a while because these are factors that meaningfully impact people’s lives. Now, during the pandemic, I believe people are grounded in what’s important to them as individuals. This can include their families, spending time at home, as well as a look at what’s really happening in the world around us.
It’s been astonishing to see the images and hear the accounts of what’s happened, for example, when commuting and transportation were halted in cities around the world. As a result, we saw a swift, positive impact on air quality, which in turn had a swift, positive impact on human health. As painful as 2020 has been, it has been a wakeup call for people, as well as corporations, to do more in terms of protecting the health of our planet and our people.
Can you talk about the intersection of science and sustainability? Why is this so important for companies in today’s corporate environment to understand?
The intersection of science and sustainability is absolutely one of my favorite topics to discuss. When we think about the challenges we face throughout our lifetimes, science is at the forefront of making changes for the better. From autonomous vehicles that preserve energy and make roads safer to the myriad ways we use our mobile devices now, science is creating the future. How do you make a fantastic and inspiring future happen? Science is key.
And I’m not alone on thinking the link between science and sustainability is critical. When it comes to sustainability, 3M’s annual State of Science Index found that two-third of respondents (67%) cited negative environmental impact as the second most concerning consequence of a world without science.
Companies are paving the way for our future, so it’s imperative that they understand the role science plays in sustainability. Corporations — through competitive approaches, ability to scale, and resources to support innovation — are helping find these sustainable solutions. I’m excited about what can happen in the space if we unite to find the best ways to address these challenges.
What are 3M’s biggest sustainability goals going into 2021 and can you describe how the company is going to attain those?
At 3M, we have 15 sustainability goals for 2025, and next year will be a key year in advancing those. We have goals around three pillars: Science for Circular, Science for Community, and Science for Climate.
Circularity is focused on designing solutions that do more with less material to advance a circular economy. Our climate goals are focused on decarbonizing industry, accelerating global climate solutions and improving our environmental footprint. For community, we aim to create a more positive world through science, and inspire people to join us. This includes increasing global giving and advancing social justice initiatives.
We’ve already surpassed some of these goals — such as the one we set around renewable energy — and where that’s the case, we’ve gone out and become even more ambitious. We are also committed to helping our customers review their GHG emissions.
My personal favorite is our Sustainability Value Commitment, which means that every new product we launch (and we launch about 1,000 each year), must have a commitment on how it advances the portfolio and drives impact for the greater good. As a result, we’ve improved packaging, reviewed what our products are made of and the processes by which we make our products, as examined more closely the impact our products have on our customers and broader communities. I’m excited about what we can do with our Sustainability Value Commitment and driving forward all of our 15 sustainability goals in 2021 and beyond.
How can corporations in your industry help customers meet their own sustainability targets?
One exciting thing about working for a company like 3M is that we touch so many different industries. For example, we saw our customer base moving toward sustainable solutions in the consumer space. As a result, we brought forward plant-based solutions and more recyclable options, which allowed our customers do things they couldn’t do before.
As time has gone on, we’ve seen the same interest driving into industrial channels: electronics, transportation, and more. Now, we’re seeing demand in the healthcare space — which was previously focused solely on patient outcomes — to reduce their environmental footprint.
What we’re finding, and what I’d encourage others to do, is to help customers do things in new ways. This all stems from getting close to customers and understanding their priorities to help them deliver on their goals. If we can help our customers find ways to achieve their goals, it is a win-win all around.
What do you predict as being the most important sustainability topics for 2021 and why?
Going into next year, I’m grounded in our Strategic Sustainability Framework: applying science to circular, climate, and community. Elements of each of these will be critically important for 2021.
For circular, we are closing production loops and reducing waste (plastics and otherwise). For climate, we are partnering with others to reduce carbon footprints around the world. And for community, well, we are still fighting this pandemic and will continue to address major social equity challenges.
2021 will be another big year for sustainability. I don’t see it slowing down. There is an increased awareness and momentum, this gives us more opportunities to collaborate with others to make an even bigger impact.