The vitality of our business depends upon access to high-quality ingredients; so ensuring the availability of these ingredients for years to come is critical.
By Jerry Lynch, VP & CSO, General Mills
General Mills has been working closely with farmers since the early 1900s. This close connection to agriculture is a large part of our history and one we depend upon for our business.
Today, we are working with smallholder farmers in developing economies and larger-scale growers in developed economies to address sustainability challenges and pursue opportunities unique to each growing region.
Our work in agriculture is where we’ve found that we can offer the greatest impact on the environment.
We have also established targets to reduce our environmental footprint within our own facilities. This work continues; we’ve made good progress and continue to work towards our goals on other fronts, accounting for business fluctuations due to acquisitions and market demands.
As we looked beyond our own walls, however, we found that nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 99 percent of water use occur outside General Mills’ operations, primarily in agriculture. By prioritizing sustainable sourcing, we are focusing on where we can most effectively minimize our environmental footprint. We are also working to advance responsible sourcing practices across our supply chains to protect human rights and animal welfare.
As for the approximately 99 percent of the water consumed outside our direct operations, the story is more complicated. The watersheds we access to meet the needs of our facilities support demands from agriculture, municipalities and other industries, so improving the health of these watersheds requires significant collaboration. To begin addressing these larger watershed issues, we are partnering with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to formulate and implement our collaborative global water stewardship strategy.
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In partnership with TNC, we completed a global water risk assessment of all General Mills plants and growing regions in 2012. These assessments build on our supply chain risk analysis work with WWF, giving us a clear picture of the most at-risk watersheds within our supply chain and allowing us to develop sustainable strategies for improvement. We recognize we cannot accomplish these improvements on our own and actively collaborate with others.
Next, we plan to expand these conversations to include a broader mix of private and public entities in each watershed area.
Our goal is to find the right partners and begin working with others to implement changes in high-risk areas. Ultimately, our goal is to develop a global freshwater stewardship program with public commitments, public education and advocacy, and funding for each watershed.
Sustainable Sourcing by 2020
Our most recent efforts around sustainable sourcing include a commitment we made last year to sustainably source our 10 priority ingredients by 2020. This is significant since it represents more than 50 percent of the company’s annual purchases. As a food company, the vitality of our business depends upon access to high-quality ingredients; so ensuring the availability of these ingredients for years to come is absolutely critical.
As you’ll see from the graphic above, we source some of our 10 priority ingredients from the developing world, like vanilla and cocoa, but the majority of our ingredients come from the developed world.
Sourcing from the Developed World
As we work to increase the sustainability of row crops, including our priority ingredients such as wheat, sugar beets, oats and corn, we are collaborating with industry groups, our suppliers and North American growers to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture through continuous improvement.
For example, in the U.S., we are leaders in Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, an industry roundtable whose goal is to help growers leverage the Field to Market framework for gathering information about how their farming practices are impacting the environment.
These growers now have access to data that can help guide everyday decisions related to irrigation, tillage, crop rotation and nutrient management as they consider impacts on water consumption, land use, soil loss and energy use.
We started this work in 2010 and have gathered learnings that are helping us refine our approach, scale our activities and partner with progressive farmers across our key growing regions.
We have also been working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) since 2010 to integrate sustainability into General Mills’ supply chain. WWF helped us conduct a supply risk analysis of our agricultural sourcing and water risk assessment.
Sourcing from the Developing World
In a majority of developing countries heavily reliant on land, farming and resources are an inherent challenge. Farming vanilla in Madagascar is no different. Roads are treacherous, communication is conducted in the fields on cell-phones or via face-to-face and farmers are constantly negotiating price, skeptical of truly getting the best value for their crops.
Hunger has been a part of daily life for two centuries and its effects are evident.
Vanilla, specifically, the highest quality of a very select breed of vanilla from Madagascar, is used in General Mills products including our Haagen-Dazs ice cream. We count vanilla as one of our 10 priority ingredients and have committed money and resources to secure its long-term availability, while improving the livelihood of farmers and communities that depend on this important crop.
For example, in 2013, General Mills began working with vanilla supplier Virginia Dare, the international humanitarian organization CARE and Madagascar-based NGO Fanamby on a pilot to improve farmer incomes as well as the quality, quantity and traceability of vanilla. As we help smallholder farmers accrue a greater share of the benefit from the crops they produce, we are also helping to ensure a sustainable and quality supply of vanilla for the future.
The program teaches the farmers to do more value added work on their farms like curing the bean which will allow them to potentially double their income and give them more access to the supply chain—from growing to curing.
Creating Value, Minimizing Impact
For both the developed world and the developing world, we’re working on establishing similar partnerships with organizations that share our mission to advance sustainable sourcing frameworks. With these partners, we know we can create value throughout the entire supply chain – for the farmers, our company, our clients and our consumers – all while minimizing our impact on the environment.
Our work is far from complete, but this is a journey we’re committed to.
Next: Susan Kamper, General Mills' senior technology manager examines how General Mills can strengthen other food companies in Africa through its expertise and scale.
About the Author:
Jerry leads General Mills' sustainability efforts globally. Lynch began his career at General Mills in 1995 and has served in various general management and marketing roles across the company globally. In addition to his day job, Lynch volunteers his time on the Advisory Board of the Raptor Center of Minnesota, the Food Recovery Network and the Board of Trustees of the Keystone Center. Lynch earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in 1984 and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1995.