In 2023, 3M maintained its D+ grade for the third consecutive year, with no change in its overall ranking since 2021. However, a substantial shift occurred in the amount of persistent chemicals that the company produces, going from 5 to 59. This has to do with additional PFAS being included on the SIN List. A bold move was made with a commitment to phase out PFAS by 2025, which earned the company 2 points. But 3M’s extensive history of PFAS production, mounting controversies and large hazardous product portfolio still loom over the company. Transparency on its chemical production remains limited with only 53% of its sold products known via public registers in the EU/US markets.
3M conducts hazard screenings and has a sustainability commitment for new products together with life-cycle assessments. However, the missing cut-off criteria for Substances of Very High concern is concerning. The company markets safer alternatives but fails to do so actively on ChemSec’s Marketplace or other independent third-party platforms. Products with renewable or recycled feedstock are available but unfortunately lack clear statements about the absence of hazardous chemicals.
Opportunities for improvement
- Map and phase out persistent chemicals
3M produces or uses at least 59 persistent chemicals. These substances are known as “forever chemicals” due to the fact that they do not break down in nature. These chemicals — which are linked to many negative health effects — instead build up over time, creating consequences that are becoming increasingly detrimental. Not only for human health and the environment but also for investors. Companies reliant on such chemicals risk stranded assets now that the regulatory speed is accelerating. They are also exposed to significant liability risks since more chemical companies are being sued for contamination and bodily injury. 3M should therefore identify all uses, as well as publish the share of revenue and production volume of persistent chemicals (or products that contain them). The company should publish a time-bound phase-out plan for each persistent chemical and a realistic road map with clear KPIs to track progress.
- Reduce hazardous portfolio
Scientists agree that chemical pollution has crossed a planetary boundary and become an urgent global crisis, threatening both ecosystems and human health. Since 3M has 95 hazardous chemicals in its product portfolio, a key improvement point for the company is to reduce this number. 3M should therefore identify all uses, as well as publish the share of revenue and production volume of hazardous chemicals (or products that contain them). It should also publish a reduction road map of each hazardous chemical together with an annual progression report. Ideally, the company should commit to having a toxic-free product portfolio within the next decade. If the company decides to continue producing a hazardous substance, it needs to present a rationale for its essential use and prove that no feasible alternatives are available at present. In such a case, the company should also state the share of the R&D budget spent on finding a safer alternative for that particular substance.
- Market safer alternatives
3M does not have any safer alternatives evaluated by independent third parties in its product portfolio. Safer alternatives replace the use of hazardous substances and are crucial in order to put an end to chemical pollution. The company should, therefore, start producing safer alternatives or market existing ones on an independent third-party platform. A good place to advertise is ChemSec’s Marketplace, where buyers and suppliers can find and market safer alternatives.