Aug 02, 2011 • By

Women of sustainability

In my daily work, I talk about sustainability to a variety of people, inside and outside the food industry.

The Twin Cities Women of Sustainability group visited General Mills in June. The group’s members are from a broad spectrum of industries, from hotel management (Hilton Gardens) to real estate development (CB Richard Ellis), from government (the Consulate of Canada) to education (the University of Minnesota).

According to Vanessa Nordstrom, business category manager for General Mills and current co-manager of the Twin Cities Women of Sustainability, the organization’s purpose is to allow “women in business who are focused on sustainability to share best practices and collaborate across industries.”

During my presentation, I shared some of the challenges and opportunities we have realized as a company since we implemented our global environmental sustainability goals back in 2005.

I also wanted to make sure the group had a good understanding of the interesting dichotomy between what consumers believe they do in their “greener” lives and what they are willing to do when it comes to purchasing products based on sustainability claims. Right now, consumers prioritize price-value and convenience well ahead of sustainability when making a purchase. In the food category, quality and taste also rank ahead of sustainability.

The group had a lot of questions, particularly in the area of collaboration. It gave me the opportunity to talk about what the food industry is doing and planning to do on a pre-competitive basis. I shared that our ability to succeed in some areas of sustainability will be dependent on working together with companies that we compete with in the marketplace, like Kraft, Kellogg’s, and Campbell’s.

For example, General Mills is a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, a global industry food group made up of 36 companies, including Unilever, Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, Kraft, Walmart, Tesco and Target. We are collaborating to identify a global language for packaging and sustainability, as well as a measurement system to help companies make better, more informed decisions about packaging and sustainability.

One of the group members is Jean Sweeney, vice president of sustainability for 3M. She and I had a great discussion on sustainable waste management, a growing area of importance for both the food and the nonfood consumables business.

There is no end to the collaborative work we can do to reduce the amount of stuff we put in landfills. In fact, General Mills has a waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2015.

The Women of Sustainability bring together a broad spectrum of industries working toward a more sustainable future, and it was great to have the opportunity to share ideas with this talented group of women.