NOT CURRENT YEAR
3M has a large production of hazardous chemicals and data tells us that it is producing 43 highly hazardous chemicals, including seven persistent chemicals. This large production of very problematic chemicals is a big reason behind the company’s poor score in the Product Portfolio category (one point) and also in the ranking as a whole. Another poor area for 3M is the Lack of Controversies category, where the American company scores zero points, due to several serious cases of contamination and huge penalty fines. When it comes to circular economy, 3M lacks a clear circular strategy with measurable targets. However, the company is actively marketing safer chemicals and also recognizes the inherent toxicity of its ingredients.
Opportunities for improvement
- 3M currently has seven substances in its product portfolio belonging to the group of chemicals dubbed “forever chemicals”, due to their extreme persistence. For investors, these chemicals pose a nightmare when the persistence and level of exposure is revealed, as demonstrated by the companies involved in the PFAS disaster, suffering massive financial implications. Investors risk stranded assets, as the environmental and human health impacts of exposure to “forever chemicals” can’t be stopped or easily reversed. For this reason – not to mention for the sake of human health and the environment – we strongly recommend that 3M prioritises phasing out persistent chemicals from its product portfolio.
- The company should also reduce its hazardous portfolio overall, which currently consists of 43 banned, severely restricted or SIN-listed substances. Chemical pollution has a harmful impact on human health and the environment, and poses a growing threat. Two million people died due to exposure to hazardous chemicals in 2019, compared to 1.56 million in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Hazardous chemicals are also key drivers of biodiversity loss, putting entire ecosystems in jeopardy. A good place to start the reduction would be the four PIC substances that 3M still offers. PIC, short for Prior Informed Consent, is one of the key provisions of the Rotterdam Convention, allowing the export of – often domestically restricted – hazardous chemicals to poorer countries with weaker chemical legislation, as long as the receiving country signs a consent that it understands what it is accepting and has a plan for how to handle it.
- 3M participates in circular economy initiatives and claims that “Science for Circular” is one of its “top sustainability priorities”. Still, we would like to see more theory put into practice; we can’t identify a clear circular strategy from the company’s KPIs and SMART targets. The sponge Scotch-Brite® Greener Clean is the only example we can find of recycled feedstock and circular products. For a company of this size, we would expect to see more products with a circular end-of-life concept being developed.
3M produces/uses 43 highly hazardous substances – 42 SIN List chemicals, 4 PICs, and 7 HHPs – 16 of which are included on the EU’s REACH Candidate List. 1 of these highly hazardous substances is either banned or severely restricted, with a set date when production needs to cease (1 Authorisation List substances, and no POPs). The company produces 7 persistent chemicals. Persistent chemicals are particularly problematic, since they do not break down, but instead accumulate in humans and the environment. Because of this, persistent chemicals should be of extra concern for investors; substances that are not considered a problem today could become huge liabilities in the future.
Please note that there is no available data for the 39 % of the company’s production that takes place outside of the EU and US. Lower EU/US production means higher uncertainty with regard to the total production of hazardous chemicals, which will have a negative impact on the company’s score in this category.
3M has a method in place to screen and assess the sustainability of its products and includes the intrinsic hazards of ingredients in the screening process. It does not, however, exclude substances with toxic properties from its new products. 3M actively markets safer alternatives both on its own website as well as on ChemSec Marketplace. The company has no true circular product, process or innovation. 3M uses biobased resources, but at the expense of occupying extra land or in competition with food production. It sources and treats recycled materials in a sustainable way, which is one of the key elements of a circular economy. 3M is not actively reducing the hazardous waste it generates.
The American company does not produce only sustainable products, and it does not have a timed phase-out strategy for hazardous substances that go beyond regulatory compliance. It shares chemical safety information on its website and is following a credible code of conduct standard. 3M did not respond to ChemSec’s attempts to communicate around its ChemScore ranking and it does not share any information about what kind of chemicals it produces in regions with low regulatory demands for transparency (e.g. Asia). 3M does not have a circular economy program in place, thus lacking objective and measurable circular economy targets.
During the last years, there has been numerous lawsuits filed against 3M where the company is accused of contaminating natural resources, such as drinking water, with perfluorinated chemicals. Millions of people are potentially affected by the contaminations, and leaked internal documents show that 3M knew of the risks with the perfluorinated chemicals for decades. One of these lawsuits resulted in a staggering 850 million USD settlement.Download Controversies 3M (PDF, 126 KB)