Supply chain
Mar 11, 2015 • By

3 lessons learned in supply chain sustainability

As a global food company, General Mills is positioned not only to create economic value in the countries where we operate, but to create social and environmental value.

In pursuit of our goal, strengthening our responsible practices through the supply chain is a top priority.

Reducing a company’s environmental footprint is no small task. Just getting started can be tough. But once commitments are made and first steps are taken, the path unfolds. We’ve learned a few things on our sustainability journey and every day we learn more.

Here are a few of our key takeaways.

Start at home

Throughout our nearly 150 year history, General Mills has been a leader in sustainability and social responsibility. That legacy led us to begin a focused effort in 2005 within our own operations for the simple reason that it is easier to change what we control.

As a starting point, we assessed usage of key natural resources as well as our solid waste generation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rates.

We set targets, prioritized them within our plants and reported annually on our performance. To date, we have made progress against some of our goals and faced challenges with others.

Measurement plays a role in ensuring we remain on-track with our goals. To pinpoint areas of greatest energy and water usage, we have installed metering devices for specific equipment and processes. This helps us identify energy and water savings opportunities and implement improvements.

Best practice sharing is also an important driver of success. When our Big G cereal business rolled out a five-step energy reduction process that resulted in a 6 percent reduction in energy usage across seven plants, we saved $3.7 million. We have been able to leverage this approach across our supply chain, realizing both significant energy and cost savings.

That’s a win/win.


It’s about uber-collaboration

As we looked beyond our own walls, we found that nearly two-thirds of GHG emissions and 99 percent of water use occur outside General Mills’ operations, primarily in agriculture. We quickly learned that to effectively minimize our environmental footprint across our entire supply chain, collaboration was critical.

We call it uber-collaboration.

Most recently, with the help of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we focused our efforts on improving our sustainable sourcing practices, beginning with our 10 priority ingredients.

In 2013, we announced our commitment to sustainably source our 10 priority ingredients, which represent 50 percent of our total raw material purchases, by 2020. To accomplish this commitment, we work with both smallholder farmers in developing economies and larger-scale growers in developed economies to address challenges and pursue opportunities unique to each growing region.

sustainable food

In addition, we are partnering with multi-stakeholder groups like Field to Market, RSPO, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and Bonsucro to advance sustainable sourcing frameworks, pilot scalable solutions and share best practices.

We know that agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s freshwater so we turned our focus upstream and with the help of the WWF, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) we assessed areas of greatest watershed risk in our supply chain and are now addressing them on a watershed by watershed basis.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential to strengthening the health of our watersheds.


It’s a journey

Several years into our sustainability journey, I can tell you first hand that while incredibly rewarding and critical to our future, it can be challenging. The milestones can be few and far between, so passionate employees who champion sustainability goals are critical to the impact of these efforts.

We must remind ourselves that it is our responsibility as businesses to act. Together with governments, NGOs and individuals we must work to reduce the human impact on our planet.

We all have a part to play.

General Mills is in this for the long term and will continue to innovate, scale and share best practices. Future generations are counting on us.

Editor’s note: Learn more about our sustainability mission at This post first appeared on CSRwire.

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