Making pollution prevention pay.. in more ways than one!

“Pollution is … unused raw material. By reducing the amount of pollution, … [3M can] save money both on pollution control and on raw materials the next time around. It's a win-win situation” So said Dr Joe Ling, 3M’s former Staff Vice President, Environmental Engineering and Pollution Control back in 1975. He was arguably the first individual to articulate the concept of pollution prevention.


It seems common place to us today, but back in the early 1970s, Joe’s belief that pollution prevention was more environmentally effective, technically sound and – crucially - economical than conventional pollution controls was considered revolutionary. 


In 1976, Dr. Ling first presented his ideas at a conference sponsored by the United Nations. Shortly after, he was approached by the director of the United Nations Environmental Program to develop a booklet explaining these theories for distribution to UN member nations and countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Sweden went on to adopt pollution prevention as a formal part of their environmental policies.


In the US, Dr. Ling served as an advisor to three sitting U.S. Presidents and the US EPA.


At 3M, Dr. Ling took his novel ideas one step further by integrating them into 3M’s business processes, particularly within manufacturing operations, through the Pollution Prevention Pays programme or, as it is known today, simply “3P”.


3P seeks to eliminate pollution at the source through product design and  re-formulation,  process modification, equipment redesign, and the recycling and reuse of materials . Since its inception, 3P projects have prevented the generation of more than 3.55 billion pounds of pollutants and generated close to $2 billion of first-year savings for the company. One of the main reasons for the success of the programme is that it is first and foremost an employee recognition scheme, recognising individuals for contributing to projects and initiatives that make a positive environmental change through their work.


The mindset and continuous thinking of pollution prevention not only reduces 3M’s own operational impact but can also contribute to products that have an environmental benefit for our customer. The development of an increasing number of products with either environmental benefits in use or with a reduced impact over the total life cycle is a cornerstone of 3M’s sustainability programme. 


3M has a rich history of developing products with sustainability attributes. These include  the world’s first CFC-free metered dose inhaler; 3M™ Novec™ Engineered Fluids that have zero ozone depletion potential and very low global warming potential; and 3M Aluminium Conductor Composite Reinforced (ACCR), a highly conductive lightweight wire that doubles the transmission rates of conventional electricity transmission cables – a neat alternative to more pylons!


In addition, 3M™ High Intensity Grade Prismatic Reflective Sheeting used in road signs significantly reduces emissions and energy consumption in the manufacturing process compared to beaded reflective sheeting and one of our latest developments is 3M™ Envision™ Wrap film, a high performance non-PVC graphic film.


Many of 3M’s products and technology platforms also support sustainability and are used in areas such as the production of bio-fuels, renewable energy systems, water filtration and electric car batteries.


As we think about the sustainability challenges facing society today and in the future (raw material scarcity; water accessibility and quality; climate change and energy efficiency; education and employment; and health and safety), at 3M we see a plethora of ways in which we can  make a significant contribution ... and sustainable manufacturing is and will continue to be the skeleton key with which to unlock those opportunities.

Written by Pip Frankish, Sustainability Manager, West Europe, 3M Company

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