Apr 11, 2012 • By

The impact of global responsibility

While the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has evolved considerably in recent years, General Mills has long held the belief that doing “well” for our shareholders goes hand in hand with doing “well” for our consumers, our communities and the planet. For us, being a trusted corporate citizen is the bedrock of our business, expressed clearly not only in our values and our mission of Nourishing Lives, but in our practices every day.

As the world’s sixth-largest food company, we leverage our innovation, know-how and scale to grow our business. We also recognize the opportunity to create value not only for our shareholders, but for our consumers, employees, customers, communities and the environments in which we operate.

We work under the premise that a small action on our part can have a big impact elsewhere.

And we strive to make that impact a positive one.

Our recently released 2012 Global Responsibility report is a testament to everything we vouch for and aspire to. Besides highlighting our actions, goals and performance in the key areas of health, environment and community, this Report serves as a constant guide in bettering our processes and managing our impact holistically.

Making Lives Healthier, Easier and Richer

We like measurements. What is measured generates results, and we use metrics not only run our business, but also manage progress toward ambitious CSR goals. Take health, for example. As a food company, we are committed to creating products that make lives healthier, easier and richer.

To deliver on this goal consistently, we established the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition in 1998 and the Health and Wellness Center of Excellence in 2005. We also began to systematically measure improvements to the health profile of our products in 2005, setting specific goals to reach.

We call this our “health metric.”

In 2011, we set a new record for improving the health profile of our products, surpassing our 2010 performance.

The company improved the health profile of products comprising 25 percent of its U.S. Retail sales last year. Improvements included adding whole grains, fiber and calcium, and reducing calories, sugar, sodium and trans fat.

In all, from 2005 to the end of 2011, 64 percent of our U.S. Retail product sales volume has been nutritionally improved.

Minimizing Our Environmental Footprint

Like our health metric, we apply a disciplined measurement system to our environmental performance, setting our first global sustainability goals in 2005. Our sustainability metrics include water, energy, solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, we added new goals for North American transportation fuel and packaging. We haven’t always achieved our goals in the timeframe set, but we have made significant progress.

Last year we reached the halfway mark on three of our 2015 global sustainability goals:

1. Water

2. Solid waste

3. Packaging

Progress against our goals has been furthered by the company’s continuous improvement and holistic margin management strategies.

These two core business strategies work by eliminating non value-added processes, labor and materials, and delivering only truly valuable additions for our consumers.

For example, a recent audit at one of our Midwest plants identified 77 different opportunities for curbing energy use at the facility, from switching LED lighting in freezers to capturing more of the heat generated by everyday production at the plant and reusing it, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. In total, these energy-saving opportunities represent about $1 million in annual savings, while reducing the plant’s energy consumption.

In the end, strategies like continuous improvement and holistic margin management create a win-win for our key stakeholders: Our consumers aren’t paying for something they don’t value. We are using resources much more efficiently. And our shared environment benefits from reductions in waste, energy and packaging.

Engaging Partners

As we continue to work toward our goals, we recognize that as a global food manufacturer, General Mills accounts for only a portion of the environmental footprint of our products. A large share of the environmental impact occurs upstream of our facilities.

Recently, we began asking our top suppliers to complete our “supplier scorecard,” which asks for data on energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and solid waste generation that is associated with the ingredients or material we use to make our products.

With our supplier scorecard, we will be able to make a greater impact on the total footprint.

Social Impact: Engaging Employees, Strengthening Communities

The social impact – and what we can do with our consumers and employees to better their communities – is not lost on us. We’re proud that 83 percent of our U.S employees volunteered in their community in 2011 – nearly three times the 29 percent average reported in a survey of more than 150 Fortune 500 companies.

We know that engaged employees are productive employees, so we place a strong emphasis on community engagement as part of our global business strategy. We’ve sharpened our focus on hunger; as a large food company, we believe that we are uniquely positioned to help address this persistent, global problem. Our approach is holistic and includes product donations, charitable giving as well as skills-based volunteerism.

Partners in Food: “Do the right thing, all the time”

A great example of the latter is our Partners in Food Solutions program, which leverages the skills, talents and passions of more than 500 General Mills employees to help small- and medium-sized food manufacturers in Africa.

By sharing their technical knowledge and capabilities, these employees are enabling local food processors to source more ingredients from local farmers. Sourcing locally is not only driving economic stability in the communities but also ensuring loyal and long-term supply chains for the processors.

At General Mills, we run our business so that it will be around for another 100 years. This calls for a focused and disciplined approach to investments that:

1. Generate strong returns for shareholders and customers;

2. Create healthier products for consumers;

3. Foster productive and engaged employees;

4. Strengthen communities; and

5. Protect the environments in which we operate

This report is one more tool to ensure we are on target and forever committed to raising the bar on the positive impact we can have.

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on CSRwire’s Talkback blog. It is the final post in a series about our 2012 Global Responsibility report featuring leaders within General Mills. The first post was written by Kim Nelson, senior vice president of External Relations. The second post featured John Machuzick, president of our Bakeries & Foodservice division, and the third post shared thoughts from Jeff Harmening, president of Big G cereals.