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3M Launches Corporate Giving Programs Focus on STEM Education


3M, better known as the force behind such iconic brands as Duct tape, Scotch tape and Post-its, has just kicked off a $400,000 corporate giving program designed to encourage budding scientists and engineers to keep sustainability foremost in mind as a career focus.

The immediate results will be relatively intangible compared to more self-contained "green" projects such as planting trees or cleaning up a local park. However, over the long run programs that help guide early science, technology, engineering  and math (STEM) education along a sustainability track could have a significant impact on the future viability of green-transitioning companies like 3M, which are depending on the next generation of innovators to keep them competitive in a world of shrinking resources.

3M's corporate giving programs for sustainability

3M has provided more than $21 million in grants for sustainability initiatives through its environmental giving programs since 2001, and in 2011 alone the company gave almost $61 million to various non-profit organizations.

In that context, $400,000 is relatively modest, but a little could go a long way. Kim Price, Vice President of 3M Community Affairs, provides a neat summary of what the program could mean for 3M's future:

“3M is committed to sustainability, and these educational programs are helping to connect the future workforce to nature and science as well.”

The 3M Eco Grant funds will go to nine recipients that provide nature education and conservation activities, all located near 3M facilities.

That includes a watershed stewardship program by the Delaware Nature Society and a science and nature immersion course by the Chippewa Nature Center in Michigan, along with projects run by the San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy in California, the Center of Glastonbury (a project of the Connecticut Audubon Society), the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Georgia, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks Foundation in Detroit, the Cincinnati Nature Center, Conestee Park in South Carolina, and Islandwood at Washington State's Bainbridge Island.

3M and STEM

3M's interest in STEM education dovetails with the Obama Administration's goals for incubating the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators, as described in the official White House blog:

"A world-class STEM workforce is essential to virtually every goal we have as a nation – whether it’s broadly shared economic prosperity, international competitiveness, a strong national defense, a clean energy future, and longer, healthier, lives for all Americans.   If we want the future to be made in America, we need to redouble our efforts to strengthen and expand our STEM workforce."

To achieve that goal, last summer the Administration launched a plan to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps, with a four-year mission of recruiting 10,000 "exceptional" STEM educators to mentor other teachers in their communities in addition to their classroom duties.

Post-it goes green

Though 3M is not particularly known for producing eco-friendly products (at least, not so far), it has been trending in that general direction for some time. The company began environmental assessments of its products in the 1970's, when it also began engaging with the newly formed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sponsor pollution prevention programs for industry. Its 1970's-era Pollution Prevention Pays initiative also foreshadowed our own 3P "People, Planet, Profits" framework.

3M made some headlines in 2007, when it began offering an eco-friendly version of Post-it notes featuring partial recycled content. In 2009 it partnered in a pioneering cradle-to-cradle project for recycling plastic Scotch tape dispensers, in 2011 it introduced the Scotch-Brite botanical disinfecting wipe, and in 2012 it introduced a line of "Greener Clean" scour pads made with agave fibers and packaged in recycled material [disclaimer and quickie review: yes, I lunged for the scouring pad the first time I saw it in the supermarket, and it works just as well as the old ones).

One of the more interesting actions undertaken recently by 3M is an investment in the startup Ecovative Design, which has come up with a method for making renewable custom packaging materials from fungi. Needless to say, the package is fully biodegradable under the right conditions.

[Image (cropped): 3M Duct Tape by sneakums, flickr]

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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