Jun 14, 2011 • By

Summer of Sustainability

Ahhh… it’s finally summer in Minnesota.

This much-anticipated three-month stretch (when the mercury finally climbs above 70 degrees!) undoubtedly conjures up images of lakefront cabins, campfires, swimming pools and picnics.

At General Mills’ headquarters in Minneapolis, the season is also synonymous with the “Summer of Sustainability.”

This month, this summer-long series is designed to drive awareness of how employees can build sustainable practices into their lives at work and home.

Embedding sustainability into General Mills’ culture is a key part of the company’s mission of Nourishing Lives, according to Paul Earl-Torniainen, General Mills’ sustainability manager and one of the “Summer of Sustainability” coordinators.

“First, as a food company we rely on natural resources to generate the ingredients we use in our products,” Paul says. “A food company depends on agriculture, which depends on natural resources, and we need those resources available and intact in order to succeed as a business.”

“Second, having an awareness and mindfulness toward the way we impact the earth creates greater respect and appreciation for what we have.”

Now in its third year, the “Summer of Sustainability” provides employees with tips and tools to be more sustainable in their daily lives. New this year, Paul and his “Summer of Sustainability” team are encouraging employees to unleash their creative juices and share their eco-friendly ideas by making videos about what they are doing to be more sustainable in their homes or in the workplace.

The videos also will be uploaded to GreenSpark – an internal website designed to inspire sustainability conversations and provide a forum for employees to exchange ideas. According to Paul, “We want GreenSpark to be a virtual green water cooler – an online gathering place for discussions and place to share ideas, best practices and information year-round.”

To spark ideas about what all of us can do at General Mills to reduce our environmental impact, the “Summer of Sustainability” team invited some of our favorite “characters” – BuzzBee, Count Chocula, the Doughboy and Sprout – to share their own stories about sustainability at work within General Mills.

You can see those videos on our YouTube channel.

Employee pledges are another core component of the “Summer of Sustainability.” Employees commit to making changes in their behavior to help reduce their impact on the environment.

Pledges are categorized into three areas – saving money, healthy lifestyle and sustaining the global community. Options range from bringing a reusable mug to work to installing a rain barrel at home to biking to work. Everyone who pledges will be entered into a raffle, and winners will receive a donation to one of five organizations that work to protect the environment. Last year, more than 3,000 employees made pledges.

The “Summer of Sustainability” team also sends weekly e-mails that highlight sustainability efforts at General Mills and provide practical tips on how employees can make more sustainable choices. I’m inspired by the Summer of Sustainability to implement some of the following tips in my daily life.

*Unplug electronics such as TV’s and cell phone chargers when they are not in use. This unused energy could account for as much as 10% of a household’s electric bill.

*Recycle office paper. Did you know each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water?

*Change printer options to two-sided paper. If I only have enough printing to fill one side, I’ll re-use the back for scrap paper or my son’s coloring projects.

*Bring a reusable bag for lunches and snacks. Our company store stocks this great snack tote from snackTAXI.

Sustainability efforts inspired by the summer-long initiative have had a far longer-lasting impact on the company and the environment.

For example, a plastic bottle cap collection netted 140,000 caps that were donated to a local hair care company, which melts them into shampoo bottles. A campaign to promote biking to work resulted in employees logging 26,000 commuter miles and saving 1,300 gallons of gas. A competition in our Big G division to reduce office paper use resulted in a 30 percent drop in printing. The competition now continues year-round, and winning teams are rewarded with an ice cream party.

For more ideas on how to incorporate sustainability in your life at work and home, check out this article from the Mother Nature Network.

Editor’s note: For more information on how General Mills is working to be a more sustainable company, visit our new CSR website at csr.GeneralMills.com.