When it comes to 3M and the environment, the company has been pushing eco-friendly initiatives on several fronts.

According to the company's sustainability reports, upon which much of this article is based, 3M has been working for several decades on cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the 19-year period of 1990 to 2009, 3M cut its worldwide, absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 77 percent. Emissions in the United States were down 79 percent.

The company hoped to further cut greenhouse gas emissions by five percent in 2010 as compared to 2006 levels. The results have not yet been announced.

3M said it cuts greenhouse gas emission by managing fossil fuel consumption and improving energy efficiency.  Since 2005, the company has realized $110 million in energy savings by implementing more than 3,300 employee-inspired projects at 3M facilities.

For example, 3M replaced the fume incinerator at its Brookings, S.D., plant with a more efficient pollution control technology that captures and destroys an additional 1.3 million pounds of solvent vapor each year. As a result, the amount of natural gas used in the process has decreased 84 percent and greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 11,684 tons.

Investing in renewable energy

3M has invested in alternative energy in a bid to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company’s plant in Austin, Texas purchases 1,250,000 KWh of wind energy each year. That accounts for 13 percent of the plant’s annual energy use.

Similarly, the 3M plant in Perth, Canada, installed a 2,000 square foot solar wall on the south side of the facility, which is expected to displace 329 million BTUs of electricity for the site annually.

Reducing water consumption

3M says its manufacturing facilities do not require a large amount of water but the company nevertheless wants to use less.

Employees at its Sumare, Brazil plant in 2007 began a project to reduce water use by 16 million gallons by using a reverse osmosis process to treat and reuse wastewater. The project helped 3M save about $200,000 annually.

Along that same vein, the 3M plant in Bangalore has begun treating its wastewater on site and uses the sanitized water to irrigate its grounds. In the process, the facility’s water use has been reduced by 1.5 million gallons and water costs were cut in half.

Reducing volatile organic air emissions

One of the company’s highest priorities has been to decrease the release of volatile organic air emissions. This is significant because these air emissions have been known to affect the environment and human health.

3M has set a goal of reducing volatile air emissions by 15 percent by 2015 using 2010 levels as a baseline.

Looking at data going back to 1990, the company says it has reduced total pounds of volatile organic air emissions by 96 percent.

“Our global operations emitted 10.9 million pounds (less than 5 million kilograms) of volatile organic air emissions in 2008 compared with 255 million pounds (115.6 million kilograms) in 1990,” the company said in its 2010 Sustainability Report.

How did 3M reduce the number of air emissions so significantly? The company says it developed solventless technologies, invested in pollution prevention programs and increased the use of pollution control equipment.

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