Apr 22, 2014 • By

Watershed stewardship is in our sweet spot

At General Mills, we do our best to help our employees find the roles in which their personal passions and talents overlap with business priorities. We know this intersection is where employees will be most successful and fulfilled and the company will gain the most value from their work.

I believe I’m in exactly such a position as I work toward establishing a successful watershed stewardship strategy for General Mills.

I refer to myself as an ageless hippie. An avid organic gardener from my college days, I washed cotton diapers for my kids and sewed clothes for them and now I spin my own yarn for the sweaters I wear to the office.

That said, I’m also a pragmatic engineer. I know that saving the planet is only going to be a sustainable effort if it provides benefit to society, the environment -and- business.

Watershed stewardship is right in that sweet spot.

Working to ensure adequate flow of water to grow our ingredients and operate our plants will also provide nature and communities with the resources they need to flourish.

General Mills’ focus on water began in our own facilities. We set goals for reducing our water usage, always ensuring that water leaving our facility meets all environmental and regulatory requirements. Often, it leaves the plant cleaner than when it came in.

As we dug deeper, however, we learned that ninety-nine percent of the water consumed to create and distribute our products occurs outside our direct operations. Therefore, as we work to ensure future water availability, we need to work upstream, in agriculture. We are now focused on developing and implementing plans to protect the most at-risk watersheds within our supply chain.

Collaboration is key to our success.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been a great partner, helping us complete a comprehensive supply risk analysis of all of the agricultural raw materials we buy worldwide. This assessment prioritized raw materials that were analyzed against dozens of potential risk factors such as human rights, deforestation, economic sustainability, fertilizer (nitrogen) use, GHG emissions, soil loss, water quality and water use.

Now, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), we have completed a global water risk assessment of all General Mills plants and growing regions. Those assessments build on our work with WWF. We now have a clear picture of the most at-risk watersheds within our supply chain.

TNC brings the hydrologic science and connections on the ground that are needed for us to deeply understand the unique needs of each watershed and best determine how to move forward most effectively. Based on intensity of water stress and business considerations, we’ve prioritized eight of the watersheds where we either have facilities or major growing regions or both for focused work in the coming years.


We’re working to understand the challenges specific to each basin, and how we can make a measurable impact. In some cases, we may play a role of catalyst, launching large-scale programs that others can join. In other watersheds, established programs may already be underway.

Recently, we began an important new collaboration – that of a Founding Partner in the Alliance for Watershed Stewardship (AWS).


Through AWS, we are reinforcing our commitment to being a leader in water stewardship and working to solve challenges at the watershed level in a multi-stakeholder collaboration. We’re proud to join with AWS as they work to establish a global standard for watershed stewardship.

This is exciting work that gets at the heart of my passion for sustainable living.

I’m proud of the work General Mills is doing and the leadership role we’ve established. Water is one of the key elements our business depends on, and the rest of the world depends on as well.

The challenges ahead are significant, so the more we can find innovative ways to work together, the greater our impact will be on this important issue.