Keith J Miller

The concept of sustainability - meeting today's needs while preserving the ability of future generations to meet their needs - is ancient. Along with other elements of society, commercial interests have long understood this premise, although their commitment was sometimes influenced by short-term business demands. Sustainability was considered a benign but noncritical business objective - good, but only insofar as it did not hurt profitability.

Today, progress toward environmental, social, and economic sustainability is viewed as an absolute requirement for the success of multinational corporations. And, increasingly, it has an impact on the performance of businesses that operate in more local markets. In fact, companies that cannot demonstrate progress toward sustainability often find themselves at a competitive disadvantage: The expectations of shareholders, customers and other stakeholders, as well as regulatory demands, are beginning to make sustainability the price of entry into many markets.

The most successful corporations have seized upon this business reality. They recognize that sustainability increases market appeal and promotes operational excellence (and therefore profitability). In addition, attention to sustainability makes them more likely to anticipate and address environmental, economic, and social issues.

Because of its culture and values (Box 8.2), 3M for many years has been adopting the precepts of sustainability. Implicit in these values is the expectation that the company will act in a way that preserves the trust of its constituencies. 3M is committed to the highest ethical standards and to transparency whenever possible (that is, when transparency does not compromise confidentiality or intellectual property).

When 3M established its Environmental Policy in 1975, it was one of the first companies to do so (Box 8.3). In that same year, it introduced its Pollution Prevention Pays program, a pioneering effort in its recognition of the business case for environmental performance and in its reporting on environmental progress. These statements of its progress were later followed by explicit goals for solid waste and releases to air and water.

In recent decades, the company has sought continual improvement in its environmental performance, and it has detailed its goals and its efforts to achieve them. It has expanded its reporting to increase transparency. And, through its recently revised Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Management System, it has made sustainability a required part of each business' strategic planning.

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