Grow or Die

3M Canada’s director of strategic sourcing, Jeff van Geel, has found that his values align perfectly with progressive thinking and development. Here he discusses how he sees sustainability, not only in terms of triple-bottom-line business metrics, but also in a personal and a professional sense.

I lead a team of 30 staff in three locations, tasked with purchasing all goods and services for 3M Canada—from packaging to hotel contracts, hydro, and raw materials. Half of my time is spent engaging with our suppliers and partners, while the other half is spent on internal negotiations as a service group to the entire corporation at all levels.

We purchase from nearly every country, so I pay keen attention to things like the weather in remote places, as disturbances can wreak havoc on our suppliers’ ability to deliver. So we need to make sure, for example, that trucks can be moved inland, away from hurricane paths.

We are also the decision makers that help to support 3M Canada’s triple-bottom-line metrics. We care for the three sustainability pillars of fiscal, social, and environmental responsibility. We need to make money for our employees and shareholders to remain viable, but we also have to rigorously vet our suppliers for their commitment to social responsibility. We never use suppliers with socially unacceptable working conditions to source our products, and each year corporate donations support food banks in every city we operate. We procure products that are free from conflict minerals and were not sourced from old-growth forests.

“I have a lot of young staff that I need to empower so that they make decisions on their own, and this is a growth opportunity for me, too. I can give a lot back, and the mentoring process is very important to me.”

We have been in business since 1902 and have been paying attention to sustainability since the 1970s. We are in our 15th consecutive year on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and 3M’s well-known “3P” initiative—Pollution Prevention Pays—dates back to 1975.



Years 3M has been listed as a World’s Most Ethical Company
by the Ethisphere Institute


Years 3M has been a
member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index


Global donations of cash
and products in 2014


Absolute reduction in greenhouse
gas emissions from 2002 to 2014

 I think of sustainability with respect to personal and professional development. I am a firm believer in constant learning. The Internet has made information readily available, so we constantly need to be evolving to make ourselves employable. This doesn’t mean just going to a conference; 3M has been great about sending me to the Niagara Institute and providing mentorship opportunities with senior people. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

I had a major aha moment when I was a new supervisor with a previous employer. I took a course called “How to Help Others be Successful.” At the time, I wondered, “How will this help me? I want to be successful!” I was 25, and it was the best three-day course I ever went on, and I say this only seven years away from my retirement. This course changed my mind-set of what supervision meant and how to help someone up the mountain so that we can both climb higher together. It was a great lesson that changed my thinking at the time. My way is still to follow the golden rule: I treat others the way I want to be treated—firm but fair.

As I approach the final years of my career, I am still learning how to deal with different generations. Younger employees have a different mind-set, compared to where I’m at in this stage of my career. Some of my senior employees have worked here 35 years. There’s no course for that. You have to learn on a day-to-day basis and learn what motivates them. I have a lot of young staff that I need to empower so that they make decisions on their own, and this is a growth opportunity for me, too. I can give a lot back, and the mentoring process is very important to me. I’ve had a lot of experiences and great success. Mentoring is a way to share what I have done and to offer ideas for others to make decisions. I’m trying to be the kind of boss I wish that I had when I was 25.”