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3M - Lean Six Sigma and Sustainability

From “Pollution Prevention Pays” to Sustainability at 3M

3M is widely recognized as a pioneer in corporate pollution prevention.  In 2005, 3M’s Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) program celebrated its 30th anniversary. Over the last 31 years, the program has prevented more than 2.6 billion pounds of pollutants and saved more than $1 billion based on aggregated data from the first year of each 3P project.  The 3P program helps prevent pollution at the source—in products and manufacturing processes—rather than removing it after it has been created.  3P projects typically focus on product reformulation, process modification, equipment redesign, or recycling and reuse of waste materials.  As of 2006, 3M employees worldwide have completed more than 6,300 3P projects.

3P is a key element of 3M’s environmental strategy and in moving toward sustainability.  3P has achieved that status based on the belief that a prevention approach is more environmentally effective, technically sound, and economical than conventional pollution controls.  The 3P program targets key environmental metrics: VOC emissions, TRI releases, water releases, waste generation, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  With 3P and other environmental management systems in place, 3M continues to commit to environmental reductions and become a sustainable growth corporation—one whose products and processes have a minimal impact on the environment.

3M’s focus on sustainability and sustainable development has increased in recent years (  3M produces a corporate sustainability report using the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines.  In 2007, 3M was once again selected for inclusion into the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and named as the Industrial Goods and Services Sector Leader.  3M has been included in the index and named leader of its sector since its inception.

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Lean Six Sigma at 3M

3M has also been a pioneer in the use of Lean Six Sigma methods and tools to improve operations and quality.  (Lean Six Sigma is a process-improvement methodology and a collection of statistical tools designed to reduce process variation and improve product quality.)  While Lean Six Sigma activity had been underway throughout 3M for several years, 3M launched a corporate-wide Lean Six Sigma initiative in February 2001, with senior leadership support.  As of 2006, more than 55,000 salaried employees at 3M have been trained in Lean Six Sigma processes and methodologies, and more than 45,000 Lean Six Sigma projects have been initiated or closed.  Lean and Six Sigma methodologies provide a strong focus for enterprise wide implementation and are now viewed as basic components of 3M’s corporate culture.  3M’s Lean Six Sigma vision, “Achieving Breakthrough Performance for our Customers, Employees and Shareholders,” is firmly rooted in the company’s long history and culture of innovation.

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Lean Six Sigma and Environmental Goals

3M Environmental, Health, and Safety managers view Lean Six Sigma as a powerful tool for achieving current and future corporate EHS and sustainability goals.  The company noted that while Lean Six Sigma projects focused on improving operational efficiency and product yield, direct reductions in energy use, air emissions, waste reduction, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental impacts also coincided.  With its 2000-2005 Environmental Targets (ET’05), 3M began tracking whether 3P projects have a Lean Six Sigma component by including a check box on the 3P project form.  In 2006, more than 70 percent of all 3P projects relied upon Lean Six Sigma methods, at least in part.

Lean Six Sigma has helped to reinvigorate the 3P program at 3M, yielding impressive results.  In 2000, 3M set ET’05 goals to address environmental issues through eco-efficiency and pollution prevention metrics.  They were complemented by individual business unit goals that incorporated product life cycle management within the unit's strategic plan.  The ET’05 goals and results are summarized below.

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Environmental Goals (2000–2005)

Description Goal Results
Reduce volatile air emissions indexed to net sales 25% 61%
Reduce U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Releases indexed to net sales 50% 64%
Improve energy efficiency (energy use indexed to net sales) 20% 27%
Reduce waste indexed to net sales 25% 30%
Double the number of Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) projects from the previous five-year period from 194 to 400 projects 400 1262

In 2005, 3M established a new set of corporate environmental goals from 2005 through 2010 (ET’10), as follows1.

  • Reduce volatile air emissions by 25 percent.
  • Improve energy efficiency by 20 percent.
  • Reduce waste by 20 percent.
  • Implement 800 3P projects.

Lean Six Sigma is anticipated to play a major role in 3M’s efforts to achieve the ET’10 goals.  Lean Six Sigma has become a powerful engine supporting expanded pollution prevention activity and effectiveness at 3M.  Given Lean Six Sigma’s focus on involving different voices through the use of cross-functional teams, personnel with environmental expertise are often involved in Lean Six Sigma project teams.  “Voice of Customer” interviews and survey results also reflect increasing interest in environmental performance results.  As the pace of Lean Six Sigma activities increase at 3M, much of the waste and variation targeted for elimination in Lean Six Sigma projects will bring environmental improvements on their coattails.  Lean Six Sigma control plans and post-project audits will help to ensure that these achievements endure.

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Lean Six Sigma and Environment, Health, and Safety Operations at 3M

Since 2001, 3M’s Environmental, Health and Safety Operations (EH&SO) organization has deployed Lean Six Sigma to improve corporate EHS services and activities.  As of February 2007, the EH&SO organization had two Lean Six Sigma black belts and a master black belt focused on corporate EHS projects and coaching (for approximately 100 team members).  All EHS team members are required to become Lean Six Sigma green belts and to lead at least one Six Sigma project.  EHS team members receive two weeks of Lean Six Sigma green belt training, and coaching is provided by black belts.  EHS Lean Six Sigma projects have focused on topics ranging from compliance or due diligence activities to data collection and management to communications.

While some of the Lean Six Sigma projects launched by 3M’s EH&SO organization have a positive return on investment using conventional cost reduction-value creation measures, many projects are justified by driving 3M toward sustainable practices and enhancing 3M’s reputation.

In addition to the Lean Six Sigma projects launched by the EH&SO organization, multiple Lean Six Sigma projects are undertaken by EHS personnel at 3M’s numerous manufacturing and research and development (R&D) facilities worldwide.

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3M Innovation and Sustainability

In 3M’s sustainability journey Lean Six Sigma has driven projects in a number of business processes, including R&D and manufacturing, and with customers.  3M’s large R&D operations offer both fertile ground for 3P pollution prevention projects and a talented laboratory for developing products and processes aligned with the company’s commitment to sustainable development.  Going forward, 3M expects to continue capitalizing on these R&D resources, in addition to continuing a strong focus on manufacturing excellence, reduced variability and increasing speed for customers.  Lean Six Sigma is anticipated to play a continued central role in driving breakthrough improvements and products that sustain 3M’s leadership in innovation and sustainability.

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1All goals are indexed to net sales, except for the goal about the number of 3P projects. 3M had a TRI release reduction goal under ET’05 program. Since most of 3M’s TRI releases are volatile air emissions, these releases are addressed by 3M’s volatile air emissions reduction goal under the ET’10 program.

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