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Inventing a strategy to improve a company's environmental position can be a lot of trouble. Why, then, should a company go through the bother?

In addition to fostering a company culture that emphasizes responsible corporate citizenship, this addresses the need to control cost and produce a more competitive product; recovery, recycling and reuse can help further this goal. Considering these reasons, it is easy to make a compelling case for developing an environmental program. Although having an environmental strategy does not guarantee that problems will not arise, it allows management to be prepared for when they do.

The desire to achieve a high level of environmental quality came about in the 1940s, when 3M's then-CEO William L. McKnight promoted the idea of valuing and respecting our environmental resources by using them efficiently. This set the tone for 3M to adopt changes that eventually developed into strategies. Thus, this desire for environmental concern did not happen overnight.

Key strategies
One key 3M strategy calls for all plants to implement an environmental management system (EMS). Further, all 3M facilities that manufacture for international trade are expected to become certified under ISO 14001.

The use of teams is another strategy. Each plant may have several teams organized to help facilitate EMSs as best fits the manufacturing, processing and handling of raw materials. Therefore, plants can address their own needs by forming teams as necessary. At 3M in Valley, Neb., the Reuse Team creates a better awareness of environmental issues such as recycling, reuse and recovery. To make pollution prevention more personal for each employee, the Reuse Team has also sponsored awareness programs such as America Recycles Day.

Corporate environmental policy
A fully developed EMS will help a company recognize and exercise its responsibility to:

  • Solve its own environmental pollution and conservation problems;
  • Prevent pollution at the source wherever and whenever possible;
  • Develop products that will have a minimal effect on the environment;
  • Conserve natural resources through the use of reclamation and other appropriate methods;
  • Assure that its facilities and products meet and sustain the regulations of all federal, state and local environmental agencies; and
  • Assist, wherever possible, governmental agencies and other official organizations engaged in environmental activities.

Environmental management system (EMS)
It was recognized that it would be beneficial for 3M to have a system in place to ensure compliance with its policies and government regulations around the world, and manage continuous improvements of the company's environmental performance. The EMS identifies elements necessary to ensure proper operations, verify and record performance, and specify improvement opportunities. Thus, business units incorporate environmental challenges and opportunities into their strategic plans through the EMS. The EMS is also helpful for those business units wishing to pursue ISO 14001 certification. The EMS contains two additional key strategic elements: life cycle management and environmental goals for the year 2000.

Life cycle management
In addition to upfront engineering, management of all stages of a product is reviewed and considered in life cycle management. This includes environmental as well as safety and health issues, from product design and manufacturing to customer use and disposal.

Year 2000 goals
These goals are purposely set high to bring major changes throughout the system, instead of incremental changes. 3M's key goals worldwide are to reduce releases to the environment 90 percent and the rate of waste generation 50 percent by the end of year 2000, compared with the baseline year of 1990. Worldwide results as of the end of 1998 are:

  • An 80 percent reduction in volatile organic air emissions;
  • A 75 percent reduction in releases to water;
  • A 20 percent reduction in solid waste; and
  • A 30 percent reduction in the rate of waste generation.

Pollution Prevention Pays
Created in 1975, the Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) program's focus is having employees prevent pollution at the source instead of treating it after it is generated. While not a new idea, it had previously not been attempted on a company-wide basis, and the results had not been documented. Thus, 3P, a voluntary program, empowered 3M employees to eliminate a pollution problem at the source, rather than just control the problem after it was produced. This was to be accomplished through teamwork and employee projects, as well as a comprehensive program with certain integral attributes:

  • Top management support;
  • Recognition of accomplishments;
  • Sharing of information;
  • A measurement system (first year only); and
  • Reporting of results.

3M's past and present corporate leadership has been committed to pollution prevention and preservation of the environment. This carries over to supporting ISO 14001 certification, which the Valley plant and others are acquiring. Recognizing employees for their accomplishments has been a keystone of 3M's environmental successes. This is generally done in the form of a plaque and special dinner or luncheon specifically organized for that individual or team of employees. Corporate newsletters help achieve best practices by covering technologies for informational exchanges in idea sheets. There are also symposiums and technology transfer sessions that focus on best practices.

Achieving results
Since 1975, 3P has allowed 3M to prevent the release of 771,000 tons of pollutants and saved the company $810 million, from more than 4,600 projects on air pollution, water pollution, sludge and solid waste, and wastewater (see Table 2).

Table 2

1975-1998 Pollution Prevented

Air pollutants

246,000 tons

Water pollutants

31,000 tons

Sludge/solid waste

494,000 tons


3.7 billion gallons

Approved 3P projects



$810 million

The figures above represent results only from the first year of each project. Projected over a period of several years, the pollution prevented becomes even more significant.

These projects focused on eliminating pollution at the source by reformulating products, modifying processes, redesigning equipment, and recycling and reuse of waste materials. A coordinating committee representing 3M's engineering, laboratory and manufacturing organizations, and the environmental technology and services staff groups administer the 3P program. The program works in four main areas:

1. Product reformulation. The elimination of solvents from a tape-coating process allowed for air emissions to be reduced by 1,100 tons, saving $1.5 million.

2. Modification of a manufacturing process. A production line solvent recovery system was added, saving 2.5 million pounds of solvent discharged and $750,000 annually.

3. Equipment redesign. Redesign eliminated pollution control equipment and the modification allowed the burning of hydrocarbon-rich exhaust gases. This saved $270,000 annually for recovered energy and reduced fuel cost.

4. Recycling and reuse of waste. A vapor compressor was installed in a wastewater stream to collect ammonium sulfate. The ammonium sulfate was given away to be used as fertilizer, resulting in a $1 million savings in pollution control equipment and annual savings of $271,000 in landfill and equipment operation and maintenance costs.

Summary of 3P strategy
1. Get support from the top. Management has to be a supporting participant as well as a player.

2. Develop a plan for a program and assign responsibility for a "champion."

3. Create criteria for recognition.

4. Share information by promoting the goals and results inside and outside of the company.

Measurement and information
Since 1990, the measurement used to track progress is the waste ratio, or total waste (air, water, solid, hazardous, etc.) produced divided by the total output of the facility. We discuss the goals and our approach to achieving them in corporate newsletters, employee meetings in the plants and electronically on the corporate intranet.

Project examples
Each division and plants has developed a number of projects to attack problems, such as:

Spray booth. The resin spray booth produced 500,000 pounds of overspray and required special incineration for disposal. New design reduced the amount of resin used, saving more than $125,000 a year on a $45,000 investment in equipment.

Landfill waste. A new product was developed using waste material consisting of non-woven polypropylene fibers from existing product lines. The product is used to absorb hazardous waste spills. The new product has provided a saving in landfill costs, made money (through sales) and reduced waste.

Material reuse. The Zero Percent Source Web Project by Valley's engineering team devised a way to recycle waste that reduced raw material by 16 percent without affecting quality, and saved $200,000 annually from raw material and landfill cost.

Scotch® MagicTM tape. This product has a recycled compound from its own wastestream that is now reprocessed and used in the tape's manufacturing, saving thousands of dollars each year in waste disposal and purchase of virgin raw materials.

Reformulated process material. Reformulation of adhesive reduced the amount of raw material solvents and cleaning solvents needed for the manufacturing process at 3M's plant in Nevada, Mo. Savings from waste disposal processing and handling and raw material cost totaled $357,000 annually.

Maximizing its yield
The noted philosopher and engineer Buckminster Fuller is credited with saying: "Pollution is nothing but resources we're not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we're ignorant of their value." By being knowledgeable of the value of our waste, 3M Valley is able to maximize its yield in a harvest that continues each year.


America Recycles Day

Pollution Prevention Pays program

3M Environmental Progress Report

Solvent Alternatives Guide

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This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1999 issue of Environmental Protection.

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