Case Study: Understanding Stakeholder Perspectives – 3M

In 2013, 3M commissioned an independent research consultancy to advance the company’s understanding of stakeholder perspectives on key social and environmental issues.  This materiality assessment process consisted of three consecutive steps, each providing critical information for the next:

  • examination of relevant literature on sustainability materiality issues.
  • individual interviews with small populations of 3M employees and external stakeholders from academia, civil society, the private sector, 3M suppliers, trade associations, media and 3M customers.
  • quantitative online survey of larger populations of internal and external stakeholders, with samples reflecting 3M’s diverse business and inclusive across geography, stakeholder type and function.

The online survey presented a list of significant sustainability-related issues generated from the prior steps in the materiality assessment process.  Internal stakeholders were asked to rate the ability of 3M to make a positive difference on significant issues, and external stakeholders, divided into 3M customers and other external groups, were asked to rate the importance of 3M addressing each issue.  All stakeholder groups were asked to rate 3M’s performance on actions to address each issue. The estimated impact on 3M’s sustainability reputation was derived through regression analysis to determine the importance of 3M’s perceived performance in each issue area across the three audiences.

The results of the assessment generated an evidence-based sustainability materiality matrix. This matrix plots significant issues related to sustainability along three axes: the degree of importance stakeholders accord to each issue, the ability of 3M to make a positive difference on these issues and the level of impact these issues may have on the company’s reputation.

3M will use the results to define future sustainability initiatives.

[This case study originally appeared in the GEMI Quick Guide on Cultivating Sustainability within an Organization]. 

Source: 3M 2014 Sustainability Report.

Source: 3M 2014 Sustainability Report.

Materiality Case Study: Sealed Air

Materiality Case Study: Sealed Air

In 2014, Sealed Air reviewed its corporate sustainability strategy and established long-term goals.   To make sure it wasn’t creating a strategy in a vacuum, the company collected feedback from suppliers, customers, and non-governmental organizations to gain valuable insights and identify the most material issues to the company and its key stakeholders. The results were Sealed Air’s first materiality assessment and matrix.

Working with an outside expert the company leveraged internal and external sources to conduct 57 interviews. The participation rate and highly engaged feedback from partners reinforced the importance of the work.

The materiality analysis helped Sealed Air understand the social and environmental risks and opportunities that stakeholders see as most critical for the company. The results have helped focus resources and guide the development of a powerful, new sustainability strategy. To ensure the success of its greater sustainability strategy, the company outlined three pillars of measureable, aggressive and impactful sustainability goals called ‘The Better Way for Life Plan’. The Plan and goals focus on helping people around the world live better lives, delivering solutions that meet customers’ sustainability needs and reducing the impact of the company’s global operations.

Internal and external perspectives were well aligned and in agreement that the most material issues across Sealed Air’s business include employee safety, product safety, food security, ethical business practices, product stewardship, and transparency. Sealed Air will continue to engage these stakeholders, and use their feedback to guide the company’s sustainability work in the future.  The most exciting part of this process is to see how closely aligned the company’s sustainability strategy is with its overall business strategy. The new sustainability strategy isn’t business as usual; it’s a playbook for the company to live out its vision.

[This case study originally appeared in GEMI’s Quick Guide on Materiality]. 

sealed air materiality

Materiality Case Study: FedEx

Materiality Case Study: FedEx

In 2014, FedEx undertook a robust materiality analysis to help the company refine its global citizenship strategy and ensure that it is addressing areas of maximum impact. The outcomes of the analysis have helped FedEx to reaffirm, evaluate and prioritize its top material issues at each operating company, as well as across the enterprise. In addition to informing and helping refine its strategy, materiality will help FedEx continue to enhance the relevance of its reporting in the future.

To conduct a truly objective assessment, FedEx worked with an external business and sustainability advisory firm to create a highly customized methodology tailored to the company’s unique structure. The company greatly values the perspectives of its stakeholders and worked to ensure that they were part of the process. FedEx’s assessment comprised:

  • A series of discussions with key external stakeholders representing nongovernmental organizations, academics and media, as well as its customers and business partners who were asked both prompted and unprompted questions about their views of environmental, social and ethical issues that represent the greatest risks and opportunities for FedEx.
  • Internal stakeholder engagement with executives.
  • Workshops at each operating company with cross-functional subject matter experts.
  • An employee survey.
  • A final enterprise-level workshop to refine and confirm the materiality results.


The company’s materiality assessment confirmed that its greatest impacts, opportunities and challenges are directly related to its operations. The matrix seen here illustrates a wide range of different issues the company faces that are critical to its global citizenship. Performing well on these issues means creating efficiencies and encouraging innovation in its operations and service offerings while upholding the Purple Promise.

As the company expected, its top issues focus on operations, safety and ethics. When FedEx team members are knowledgeable, safe and trustworthy, they are able to focus on delivering the Purple Promise to customers.


FedEx views materiality as an iterative process that must be periodically reviewed and refined as its business and the marketplace evolve. In 2015, the company plans to increase its issues-based stakeholder engagement in its analysis. It also plans to again review its goals and metrics around its top material issues to ensure that it is constantly measuring, managing and moving possibilities in its global citizenship progress.

[This case study originally appeared in GEMI’s Quick Guide on Materiality]. 

fedex materiality

FedEx Enterprise Materiality Matrix (FY14)

Materiality Case Study: Union Pacific

Union Pacific regularly engages with stakeholders in a multitude of forums across its operations, which span 32,000 miles and more than 7,000 communities, in which our employees live and work. This allows the company to understand the context of the most material issues on an ongoing basis.  As a result, Union Pacific has concluded that it has the context necessary to understand material issues for its sustainability management and reporting without a further formal materiality assessment.  This approach follows the GEMI materiality assessment flowchart by concluding that internal resources can adequately address the subject.

The company regularly relies on input from community forums, customer surveys, employee engagement tools, and external resources to identify items of greatest value for the company and its stakeholders.  This led the company to commit to four key sustainability and citizenship pillars:  Operating Safely, Strengthening Communities, Engaging Employees and Preserving the Environment.  The company uses the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 Guidelines to inform reporting on its most material issues.  In addition, Union Pacific uses an Enterprise Risk Management process to incorporate input from internal departments, including Strategic Planning, Operations, Law and the Environmental Management Group, to identify risks and opportunities. Each department plays a role in managing risks and opportunities and evaluating materiality and priorities.  This work results in 17 primary Key Performance Indicators – pictured below – that the company reports on each spring in its Sustainability & Citizenship Report, along with dozens of supporting initiatives.

[This case study originally appeared in GEMI’s Quick Guide on Materiality]. 

key performance ind