Organizing the Move Toward Sustainability

8.8.2.1 Sustainability and Operational Excellence. Since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, successful manufacturers have understood that waste (in the form of unused raw materials and defects) is costly. In the last half of the 20th century, the definition of waste grew to encompass energy inefficiencies and emissions. An early proponent of this broader view was then 3M President William L. McKnight, who in 1948 labeled as costly waste anything that went "up the smokestack" rather than into products. He urged the creation of products and manufacturing technologies that would conserve energy and raw materials.

McKnight also espoused an unusual management philosophy for the times: he believed in encouraging individual initiative, risk-taking, and the freedom to fail - qualities that promoted employee growth and satisfaction as well as the development of diverse businesses and technologies.

3M's operations became more sophisticated - and productive - with the introduction of the Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) program in 1975. As the name suggests, the program was founded on two assumptions: that pollution should be prevented rather than treated after the fact, and that such an approach made economic sense. The results of the program have borne out these assumptions. To date, the 3P program has implemented over 5200 projects, most of them stemming from employee suggestions. Tallying just first-year results from these projects, 3M calculates around $950 million in operating cost reductions and the prevention of more than one million tons of pollutants.

3M has continued to expand and refine the 3P program. In 2001, for example, the company provided more opportunities for participation by our research and development, logistics, transportation, and packaging employees, with the addition of new award categories and criteria.

The connection between operational excellence and sustainability has been reinforced since 2001, when 3M adopted Six Sigma methodology as a corporate initiative. In some cases, projects that have been designed and implemented to achieve Six Sigma goals, that is, to improve productivity and reduce defects, have also improved the sustainability of our products, human resource practices, and manufacturing processes. For example, Six Sigma projects to improve product yield have frequently resulted in reduced waste; most of these Six Sigma projects also qualify as 3P projects. In addition, all new products must go through a Life Cycle Management review that is part of 3M's Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) process. By addressing defects such as inherent process waste during the manufacturing phase of the lifecycle, these reviews improve the resource intensity and cost to produce the product.

The benefits of moving toward sustainability are not dependent on country-specific regulation. To the contrary, their impact on productivity and profitability are similar around the world. For this reason, 3M facilities worldwide are held to the same environmental standards that the company applies to its facilities in the United States (except where local standards are higher). For the same reason, all 3M manufacturing facilities making products for transnational markets are required to become ISO 14001 certified.

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