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Renee Farris headshot

3M Creates a Sustainability Art Installation


3M is known for products such as Post-it Notes. Many of us couldn’t function without them and we’re very thankful they exist. Recently, 3M outdid itself and created something even more amazing: a sustainability art installation. The entire installation was made from 3M products and showed how the world could look with 9 billion people in 2050.

It’s an immersive experience that was designed to get people thinking about “how we can all contribute as individuals and companies to improve lives,” said Penny Wise, 3M’s chief branding officer. Maybe that's why the installation was called "The Big Picture."

The installation debuted at SXSW and gave hundreds of people the opportunity to walk through four zones and learn more about sustainability. The experience started in dark and crowded zone. Large black balls hung suspended from the ceiling, representative of how polluted and dark the world might be in 2050 if we continue to damage the earth.

The second section had visitors walking through a web of dark rods, symbolic of materials 3M uses to purify air and water. As people strolled through the art, a recorded voice emanated from speakers and explained to people the meaning behind the artistic zones.

The third area had long bright reflective panels that swayed with the air flow. They were made from 3M’s ultra-reflective materials and represented harnessing energy from the wind and sun. The last zone had a molecular design to depict the technology 3M uses in healthcare and food safety. This final section was bright and beautiful, an indicator of how the world would feel if people focus on creating a sustainable world.

After walking through the installation, SXSW goers were greeted by a bartender offering free drinks and by 3M employees interested in exchanging ideas about sustainability. There were also digital panels explaining eco-friendly actions every person could take to lighten their own environmental impact. The ambiance was fun and chill. If all conversations about sustainability began with art and beer the world would probably be a much better place.

The experience was “meant to stimulate dialogue and thought,” said Wise. “This is about ideas and collaboration and thinking about solutions together. We wanted to take a different approach and inspire creativity in our audience as well as in ourselves. We can’t do this alone so it’s important to engage people and get them creative and participating in our dialogue.”

Wise says sustainability has always been at the core of 3M’s company culture. In fact, one of its programs, the Pollution Prevention Pays program, was created way back in 1975. The company is making several other large sustainable improvements, but one of the most interesting initiatives is a very small one. Last summer 3M’s headquarters planted bee friendly flowers and brought in two bee colonies to help pollinate trees and flowers. “We would like to welcome the bees to our 3M community as the smallest, but some of the hardest working 3Mers yet,” the website states. This project demonstrates 3M’s dedication to sustainability down to the tiniest of details.

Another unique aspect of 3M’s sustainability culture is its dedication to collaborating with others, a characteristic clearly seen in the immersive art installation. 3M also recently collaborated in an even bigger way by framing the company’s 2025 sustainability goals around the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. The United Nations has invited companies to join forces to make the world a better place and 3M has eagerly jumped on board.

If all companies join 3M’s heart for people and the planet, then in 2050 when 9 billion people inhabit the planet, the world will be as bright and beautiful as the 3M art installation.


Photo credits: Photos by 3M

Renee Farris headshotRenee Farris

Renee is a social impact strategist who works with companies to help them focus on key social and environmental opportunities. She loves connecting with people so feel free to contact her at renee.a.farris@gmail.com.

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