Oct 31, 2011 • By

Doing good is doing business

People who value businesses that not only do well, but also do good, are important to General Mills as future thought leaders, consumers and as potential employees. We found that audience, a predominantly millennial group, at the Net Impact Conference late last week in Portland, Ore.

Net Impact is a membership organization comprised of students and professionals whose “members believe that business has the opportunity to solve the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges.”

Its conference helped the 2,500 attendees understand that the company behind the brands they choose is especially meaningful.

Speakers included Lord Michael Hastings, global head of citizenship and diversity at KPMG; Sally Jewell, president and CEO of REI; and Hannah Jones, vice president of sustainable business and innovation at Nike.

Moving into a sustainable economy

Jones’ fresh thinking about sustainability really resonated with me. In her talk, she put forth three key ideas to keep in mind as we move “… out of the industrial age and into a sustainable economy.”

First, we need to reframe the story of sustainability as a story about innovation and opportunity. Sustainability is not about values, but about creating value, Jones said. It is really an innovation challenge to design a new future.

If it is an innovation challenge, then each of us needs to think like an innovator and “obsess innovation.” As innovators, we need to apply rigor to the chaos of sustainability, becoming at once master collaborators and “ruthless editors.”

Finally, scale is key to winning in this space, so Jones challenged her audience to “do one thing gloriously.” Doing many small things well will not get us to the sustainable solutions needed for the future.

In closing, she evoked Steve Jobs by advising, “Stay hungry. Stay focused. Obsess innovation.”

General Mills at Net Impact

Net Impact had more than 50 corporate sponsors, including Nike, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and General Mills. This was the first year that we sponsored the conference.

One of our goals was to create linkage between General Mills and our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, our initiatives in the areas of health, the community and the environment. The Net Impact Conference presented an opportunity for us to tell that story, in person.

Stephanie Lilak, our chief staffing officer, participated in a panel called “Bringing a CSR Lens to Any Role: Greening the Talent,” in which she discussed how a person’s passion and initiative help to fuel the leadership qualities that General Mills so highly values.

I participated in a panel called “Social Media for Maximum Corporate Impact,” in which I talked about the opportunities and challenges of using social media to engage stakeholders in our key CSR efforts.

We also had a presence at the Expo, where we visited with a steady stream of students. My colleagues Dan Schibel, Doug Martin and Nicole Dotts-Wright helped staff the booth, sharing their unique perspectives with potential candidates. No character costumes were at this conference, but plenty of Nature Valley granola bars and Lärabars were there for the taking.

Overall, the Net Impact Conference was a valuable foray into new territory for General Mills. At its core, it was an opportunity to share our story, learn from others and connect with an influential audience.