By Jerry Lynch, General Mills Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer
What would we do without water? It seems like a trivial thing to worry about considering the massive bodies of water that surround our borders and smaller lakes and streams that dot landscapes around the world.
But in reality, this is one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Nearly 70 percent of the planet is covered in water, but only a small fraction of the water – less than one percent – is freshwater that is available for drinking, agriculture, livestock and other fundamental needs that keep our society going and our planet healthy.
This same freshwater has been around since the world began. It’s simply used and recycled over and over. However, as the world’s population grows, our freshwater supply becomes stressed as agriculture, governments, and industries create ever-increasing demand.
At General Mills, water is critical to our business. We could not deliver any of the products in our portfolio – no Cheerios, Yoplait yogurt or Green Giant vegetables – without healthy water, land and wildlife—a sound ecosystem.
So what are we doing to protect our planet’s precious water resources?
This week, General Mills announced a water policy. The policy provides a framework that guides us as we engage with stakeholders to improve the health of watersheds, particularly those in regions where we operate.
Since 2006, we have been tracking our water usage within our facilities. Our goal is to reduce our water usage by 20 percent by 2015. We’re doing this by recirculating water whenever possible for reuse rather than disposal and of course, looking for opportunities to increase efficiency.
But, we know that 99 percent of the water – 1 billion cubic meters – needed to produce and deliver our products is used outside our facilities, primarily in agriculture. That’s equivalent to covering the entire state of Illinois under 22 feet of water.
That’s a lot of water, which is why our policy also includes working with our external stakeholders on water conservation efforts.
Collaboration with our suppliers and with other partners with expertise in this space is critical. We have been working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) since 2010. In partnership with TNC, we established a global water risk assessment of all of our plants and growing regions. These assessments build on the company’s supply chain risk analysis work with World Wildlife Fund. The company now has a clear picture of the most at-risk watersheds within its supply chain and is taking action to develop watershed health strategies for eight of the highest risk watersheds in its priority growing regions.
In addition to our new water policy, we signed The CEO Water Mandate, a public-private initiative launched in 2007 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to encourage companies to develop, implement and disclose water sustainability policies and practices. Endorsers of The CEO Water Mandate acknowledge that through individual and collective action they can contribute to the vision of the UN Global Compact and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.
These initiatives put us on the record for doing our part. They also help us learn and collaborate, yielding a bigger impact than we could ever have alone.
To learn more about General Mills’ water stewardship efforts, read the company’s water policy here, and join me and colleagues from TNC and Ceres for a webinar discussion about responsible water management on Friday, November 21 at 10am CST: Valuing Every Drop.
And, check out a panel discussion on risks posed by declining water systems and innovative solutions to increase water efficiency that I participated in at TNC’s Global Water Summit earlier this week: http://www.livestream.com/conserve.