The current world population is 7.3 billion. By 2050, it’s expected to reach 9.7 billion, according to the United Nations.

3M wants to combat the proliferation of people posing challenges in the coming years by consistently using science and technology to look for creative solutions in solving the planet’s problems—all while never losing focus on the big picture.

At SXSW last month, the company’s main mission was to help people understand the impact 9 billion people will have on the planet through an art installation highlighting the importance of collaboration in addressing global issues. They also wanted to help visitors understand how they can radically reshape toward a more sustainable future.


“The goal is to start a dialogue on how each of us plays a role in improving the planet through collaboration and ingenuity,” Penny Wise, chief branding officer at 3M, told [a]listdaily.

Wise joined [a]listdaily to talk about how 3M is working toward driving global change.

How are you engaging with people for a better future?

I’m amazed by ideas and depth of discussion around important issues. The next step in our brand platform is to engage in dialogue, challenge people on ideas and create different kinds of experiences from what traditional companies normally create. We’re one company, but it’s about all of us as individuals who want to make a difference. We’re the ones who can improve lives by using science and technology to make the future better. By 2050, there are going to be 9 billion people on the planet. We don’t want it to be a dark and horrible place and experience.

What educational tools are you using to accomplish this?

We still do traditional media, but we’re using a lot of digital and social activations in order to engage. We’re thinking about content in a very different way—where it’s less about the features and benefits of products and more about the utility and big picture, and the steps they can take toward solving problems. We want to provide the solutions.

How is the audience responding for a call to action for social good?

We hear positive responses like, ‘I didn’t know 3M did that,’ and ‘I’m now interested in the company.’ Engagement is really climbing through our digital and social channels, with dramatic increases in our Twitter and Instagram following. So people are definitely listening, watching and responding. Our outreach has been very effective.


3M is a legacy company that our parents and grandparents might best identify as the Scotch tape company. How did the brand evolve to become much more than that? What’s in store for the future?

That’s a really great question. I think what’s interesting for 3M is that 80 percent of the company is actually B2B versus B2C. So, our most famous brands like Post-it Note and Scotch tape are our consumer-facing brands. But our challenge is to tell the broader story of 3M technology and science, and how we improve lives. The brand is founded on science, which allows us to leverage the technologies that we have. That positions us really well for the future because we are going to help people solve the big problems. I think we are making great strides of telling that story and showing our depth.

How is science and technology a part of 3M’s overall business strategy?

Well, we can’t give away any secrets. The core DNA of our company since our inception is science. We have an amazing roster of scientists. They take our technologies and apply them in different ways to create the products and solutions. To give you an example, we have Aluminum Conductor Composite Reinforced (ACCR), which replaces traditional power lines. You can push twice as much power through that same line to meet the needs of cities. The future is to make a difference with people, and in the planet, and how we’re going to drive change.

How are you educating people to help make a change in society?

There is so much that 3M does that you can’t be able to put it all in one place to be able to share it with people. We make over 70,000 products. It’s about ‘how do we pick the ones to highlight? How do we share more? And how do we do it in a compelling way and create with purpose?’ Our brand platform 3M Science Applied to Life gives us the framework to tell our story in a cohesive, unified way that we haven’t done before. Now, we’re telling our story louder than we have before, because we have a strong story to tell.


With such a robust product line, which one would you like 3M to be associated with the most?

The nostalgia in me says says there are two founding technologies for everything that has evolved over time—abrasives and adhesives. Having said that, that’s one of 46 technology platforms, and it’s just like a drop in the bucket considering all of the things 3M does. We’re so much more than what we started from. We’ve been able to cross markets that other companies have not.

How can people collaborate with 3M’s efforts for a better planet?

Each individual can do one small thing each day—like recycling junk mail, or buying fruit with a bump or a bruise—to make a difference. It’s really the simple things. For our customers, the message is: ‘Let’s talk. Let’s understand what your issues and problems are. And how can we work together to help bring solutions to make a difference.’ And it’s not just us. It’s us and other companies—everybody—uniting to make a difference. Take a step back from the big picture and find something you’re passionate about. We don’t want to dictate that for you. We understand people are already doing this. We just want them to realize the impact they can have. It’s your future.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan.