How science is helping company leaders and customers be better earth stewards.

by Kris Dreessen

As vice president and chief sustainability officer at 3M, Gayle Schueller ’87 leads the company to address customer needs in a way that advances environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic success. Schueller aims to improve products, customer experiences, manufacturing and operations — and be a good steward to the earth and its people.

“I always knew I wanted make a difference through science,” said Schueller.

Schueller earned a doctorate in materials science from the University of Virginia after earning her bachelor’s degree in physics at Geneseo. She later joined 3M as a product development engineer in its corporate laboratory. Schueller said she was inspired by the influence a corporation has on how resources are used. 

For more than 25 years, she has led technical and business teams in a range of markets at 3M, from electronics to healthcare to consumer industries, in Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America, including serving as CEO of 3M Mexico. 

“Having those diverse experiences has helped me be a stronger leader because I’ve learned how problems can be solved in different ways,” she said. “I have developed a comprehensive toolkit and perspective on facing challenges, and that’s important— especially in sustainability.”

3M is a participant in the United Nations Global Compact. More than 12,000 signatories worldwide — including SUNY Geneseo —
have committed to advancing goals that ensure environmental, social and economic well-being.

Schueller’s role at 3M is integral to fostering strategy and innovation to improve lives around the world and the footprint of both the 90,000+ employee company and its customers. The job has a lot of diversity. One example is collaborating with an international group of scientists, whose findings included identifying natural materials to replace plastics in Scotch-Brite scouring pads. The waste from agave plants used in tequila production in Mexico is now being utilized to make Scotch-Brite environmentally friendly. At the same time, additional income is provided for farm families.

Such innovation and collaboration is vital as we move forward, Schueller said.

“We’re close to having 9 billion people on the planet with increasingly limited resources,” she said. “By using science and technology, we can address some of the challenges, whether it’s reinventing transportation to be more energy efficient, improving healthcare, or how we generate and deliver electricity. Those are the things that I think about and have the privilege to work on every day.”

Gayle Schueller ’87 on the rise of innovation, and the opportunities to be environmentally responsible.

• “3M and other corporations are increasingly recognizing their important role in helping address the world’s greatest challenges. With more than two-third of 3M sales outside of the United States — and the majority of its 90,000+ employees — we have a responsibility and an opportunity to help frame the future. We can consider this a personal challenge as well; what are the most important things we can do, for ourselves and others?”

• “We partner with others in our commitment to this effort. The United Nations Global Compact has more than 12,000 signatories in 161 countries. That includes 3M and nearly 10,000 other companies. The sustainability goals the United Nations has brought forward are valuable as a framework for any government, company or individual.”

• “Businesses create what consumers want. Science and insights into megatrends — changes in our world that are enormous in their impact and unprecedented in their magnitude, such as global population growth ­— provides a profound opportunity to innovate in ways that minimize impact on the environment. I believe that when consumers have a choice for a more sustainable solution, they’re going to choose it.”

• “This tremendous momentum allows individuals, corporations, non-governmental organizations, governments and academic institutions to think about longer-term impacts and innovate together. It will be very exciting in the coming years. One example are changes in healthcare accessibility — through telemedicine, how vaccinations are delivered to people, and diagnostic capabilities that allow people in remote areas to be served without going to centralized facilities.”