During lunch in the Activation Hub on Tuesday afternoon, 3M Sustainability Platform Manager Cassandra Garber led a lively discussion on how her company, a science-based institution with over 55,000 products in myriad sectors and regions, can deliver on its mission to “Improve Lives Everywhere.”
“We started thinking about measuring social impact; how do you measure the value you’re bringing to the world, how do we calculate this?” Garber began. “We did a Six Sigma exercise and realized the catalyst for driving social value is engagement. We learned that measuring social value is important but talking about it is equally, if not more valuable.”
With the help of 3M Post It Notes, Garber asked attendees to write down ideas and stick them to the board, under three categories: What Counts? How Do You Count It? and Who Counts It?
“How can you use your leverage as 3M to laser-focus your efforts based on your areas of interest?” Uren asked. “How can you use your assets to change the system around you? Is it what counts today or what counts tomorrow? How do we directly and indirectly address what matters to 3M?”
Julian Hill-Landolt, Director of Sustainable Lifestyles at WBCSD, countered Uren, pointing out that 3M had already identified its social impact areas, and is now trying to gauge what it can actually accomplish in those areas. According to Hill-Landolt, the challenge is to determine that the social initiatives already in place at 3M are achieving the ‘right’ results, from a social perspective.
Jason Jay, Director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan, suggested that the most basic way companies improve lives is simply by putting products on the market; by forcing people to make choices, you determine what’s important to them. However, Jay included the caveat that, with this approach, companies will get a lop-sided view of only the things that matter to rich populations, or people with spending capital.
The discussion then pivoted to metrics and how to effectively measure social impact. Jay suggested the Social Progress Index (SPI), a rigorous framework for measuring the multiple dimensions of social progress, as a possible tool. Jay said recent research has shown that correlating SPI to GDP reveals that a small increase in GDP in poor countries yields an enormous social progress gain, but that same GDP increase in developed countries yields little to no gain, demonstrating that the business contribution to SPI is important if we plan on making real social progress in the U.S.
Alicia Douglas, founder of PIP Labs, added that the SPI helps form what the outcomes of society really need to look like. She emphasized 3M can’t achieve lofty goals on their own, but also suggested they collaborate with academia, NGOs, civic engagement, government, and other sectors to achieve their goals.
“You have to get the right people at the right table,” Douglas said.
Jay then made the connection to environmental metrics.
“We have rigorous environmental metrics and now we’re trying to build the social metrics. We built these lifecycle metrics but lost sight of the main goal, which is to improve the quality of life,” he said. “You’re looking for a mid-line. If we get to a certain level of rigor, it will apply to the whole domain. I think a lot of the environmental metrics are reasonably decent proxies, and we need that for the social space.”
Overall, it was a rich and productive multi-stakeholder aimed at helping the 3M Sustainability team focus its efforts and deliver on its mission of improving lives everywhere.