3M's Irfan Malik on the company's focus on sustainability, safety and more
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3M’s Irfan Malik shares the company’s focus on making the world a safer place

3M’s Irfan Malik shares the company’s focus on making the world a safer place

From creating reliable safety products to supporting sustainability, the SVP – Safety and Industrial Business Group 3M EMEA, shares the company’s vision and plans

Neesha Salian
3M's Irfan Malik, SVP – Safety and Industrial Business Group - EMEA

Tell us about 3M’s safety and industrial business?
We are experts in helping keep environments safe in a changing world. Across diverse industries and applications, our technology, expertise and energy drive innovative solutions to help control the environment. From safety glasses, ear plugs and safety vests to hearing protection, reflective tape and safety harnesses, we keep people safe. We develop personal protective equipment (PPE) based on decades of experience and a deep knowledge of industry standards within the electrical, tape and adhesive, collision repair, abrasive and masking as well as in packaging.

As one of the largest contributors to 3M’s overall business, what have been one of the key drivers of growth within the safety and industrial business for the Middle East?
According to a report by Markets and Markets, with the industrial safety market projected to grow to $8.8bn by 2027 at a CAGR of 6.8 per cent from 2022 to 2027, the growth is driven by a number of factors including the need for reliable safety systems to ensure personal and asset protection, and strict mandates for safety regulations. This is also the case in countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia where there is a strong focus on protecting people and ensuring their safety in the workplace across industries including healthcare, oil and gas and construction.

From a safety regulations perspective, there are very specific mandates that various industries need to adhere to and undertaking strict measures to prevent accidents by enforcing these regulations in line with the government requirements is key and has helped to drive the growth of safety products in the market. As a science company that is focused on developing innovations and technologies that help people and the planet, 3M’s safety solutions are prominent in many of the iconic projects in the Middle East, including mega projects such as The Museum of the Future or the upcoming FIFA 2020 in Doha, Qatar.

How did the safety and industrial business contribute to the global response to Covid-19 and how is it continuing to do so in light of recent infections?
 We supported public health and government response to Covid-19 as well as shared our expertise on how to better prepare for future pandemics and emergencies with governments, customers, and stakeholders around the world. Following the pandemic, we quadrupled the production of its N95 masks and other respirators since 2019 to help protect lives. In 2020 alone, we produced two billion respirators globally. The supply and availability of N95 masks have improved significantly to meet the growing needs of the healthcare sector and returned to N95 conventional precautionary use strategies, while we are partnering to fill any gaps in underserved areas. We are also supplying industrial customers and others who rely on our PPE supplies for work. A key takeaway from the pandemic is around collaborating on innovative solutions to create PPE and other critical supplies used in the fight against Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. We have also accelerated the production of other solutions, including biopharma filtration, hand sanitisers and disinfectants.

In 2020, during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to jointly develop a rapid Covid-19 test. In another collaboration with Ford, we worked on an all-new powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) design. This personal protective equipment (PPE) will help protect health care professionals on the front lines fighting Covid-19. In South Africa, we partnered with not-for-profit organisation United Way (UW) Worldwide to support relief projects across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) that are helping the most vulnerable people in society impacted by the pandemic.

Tell us about your recent partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to bring knowledge and solutions for the transition to net zero, and the company’s role in COP27 and COP28.
Sustainability is deeply ingrained in the company, so much so that it is a core value and a responsibility we take very seriously. From our suppliers to our employees, we actively pursue sustainability-inspired innovation in manufacturing, products and new technologies through our sustainability framework, which focuses on the three Cs, directing efforts towards three priority areas where we can make the greatest impact on the world: Science for Circularity, Science for Climate and Science for Community. For example, from the beginning of 2019, each of our products entering the new product commercialisation process has included a ‘Sustainability Value Commitment’ that demonstrates how it drives impact for the greater good.

We recently released our 2022 Global Impact Report highlighting the progress it has made toward its goals in addition to the actions it took in 2021 to accelerate ambitions through its environment, social and governance (ESG) commitments.  The company’s sustainability activities are rooted in its purpose to ‘Unlock the power of people, ideas and science to reimagine what’s possible’ through its actions across its sustainability framework.

We also expect to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy across its global footprint by 2050 and is committed to increasing the interim target for energy sourced from renewables from 25 to 50 per cent by 2025. As of the start of May 2021, more than 41 per cent of 3M’s total electricity use is renewable. The company’s long-term investments will help advance waste reduction and pollution control programs, reduce water usage, and acquire and apply best available technology.

In November 2021, at COP 26 in Glasgow, 3M began a thee-year partnership with the UNFCCC, which works collaboratively with governments, the private sector, foundations, and international organisations, academia, NGOs, UN agencies and others. We are supporting the UN in bringing knowledge and solutions for the transition to net-zero, including a just transition to renewable energy. This is an important step we took at COP26, and today, we are working towards enhancing our efforts during COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in the UAE.

Our approach to these solutions is rooted in science to ensure our efforts are effective and impactful over the long term. One example of a broad partnership is the Global Alliance for Sustainable Energy, where 3M was a founding partner with Enel and 16 other organisations in 2021. The alliance brings together power utilities, innovators, manufacturers, universities, regulators, associations and civil society.

Tell us about the company’s commitment and contribution to the UAE’s industrial strategy and KSA’s Vision 2030?
With an aim to increase the contribution of the industrial sector, public and private sector collaboration will be instrumental to reimagine the future of industries. To accelerate the growth of the UAE’s industrial sector, the personal safety market will continue to remain important with a strong focus on the oil and gas industry due to the government’s support measures. Similarly, the construction industry will also remain important from an industrial safety perspective, which is expected to contribute to the growth of the industrial sector in the UAE and the wider region. Additionally, there is an increasing focus on sustainability, and solar power in particular in the UAE, where our solutions such as solar panel bonding have picked up the pace.

We are committed to supporting the Saudi Vision 2030 and the Kingdom’s economic diversification efforts across sectors including healthcare, education and infrastructure. Our Safety and Industrial Business Group is already aligned and supporting these sectors. We are currently working on several megaprojects that are currently underway in the kingdom, which require safety equipment on construction sites. From an education perspective, the group is raising awareness of the benefits of working in the skilled trades as a possible career, focusing on underrepresented students and young adults interested in vocational training for jobs that provide a living wage.

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