Providing for a growing population with fewer resources is a challenge that affects our planet, our business and each one of us. The risks associated with climate change include severe weather events that distress human life and affect entire ecosystems; reduction in crop yields; and increased stress on water availability. Science based evidence suggests we must limit the global mean temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels in order to avoid permanently altering the atmosphere and negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic systems that sustain us – both today and in the future.  When coupled with a global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the disequilibrium of natural resource supply and human demand for both food and fuel presents a real threat to global stability. Potential risks include food availability and price volatility, both of which affect the global food industry.
The imperative is clear: Business, together with governments, NGOs and individuals, needs to act to reduce the human impact on climate change. Government policies that provide proportionate and clear guidance on mitigation and adaptation are essential for large scale progress. Business investment in innovations that help reduce natural resource use and create energy alternatives is essential to reach scalable practices and technologies. And, helping individual consumers make more sustainable choices is essential to reducing the collective human impact on the environment.
As a global food company, General Mills recognizes the risks that climate change presents to humanity, our environment and our livelihoods. Changes in climate not only affect global food security but also impact General Mills’ raw material supply which, in turn, affects our ability to deliver quality, finished product to our consumers and ultimately, value to our shareholders.
Addressing GHG emissions, reducing climate change impacts and doing our part to address food security challenges will require an innovative, holistic systems approach. Agriculture presents a complex challenge, given volatile externalities like weather, market demand and viable adaptation choices. Risks vary according to crops, growing regions and local markets. An effective approach will require continuous learning and adjustment, as well as balancing multiple interests such as environmental impacts, food security, and farmer livelihoods. This policy establishes the broad framework from which specific targets and action plans will flow.
General Mills has assessed that 92 percent of the GHG emissions associated with our value chain can be considered Scope 3 - occurring in entities not owned or controlled by the company. Nearly 2/3 of the GHG emissions and 99 percent of water use throughout our value chain occur upstream of our direct operations in agriculture, ingredients and packaging. This is where we can achieve the greatest reduction in our environmental footprint while ensuring the long term availability of ingredients. For this reason, we have committed to sustainably sourcing our 10 priority ingredients by 2020, representing 50 percent of our total buy. This includes sustainable agriculture investments to improve the livelihoods and climate resilience of smallholder farmers who are less prepared to adapt to climate-related risks. We are committed to improving the most at-risk watersheds within key growing and operating regions. And, we are committed to reducing our own natural resource consumption year over year and will work with employees and suppliers to realize this goal. Reducing our total environmental footprint is essential for the long term health of our business and will contribute to the overall health of the planet.
To mitigate, we will:
- Continually reduce our environmental footprint, including resource usage in our own operations, guided by the best available science. Set global targets and track progress related to reductions in GHG emissions, energy, water, transportation, packaging and solid waste.
- Expand the scope of GHG emissions’ reduction efforts to include the broader value chain, with a focus on upstream agriculture. Within key ingredient supply chains, require suppliers to demonstrate improvements in material environmental, social, and economic outcomes. For example, contribute to continued strengthening and expansion of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture outcomes. Support the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy commitment to reduce fluid milk GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2020. Work with smallholder and conventional farmers to strengthen globally sustainable farming practices.
- Address GHG emissions due to land use change through sustainable sourcing efforts in key supply chains and growing regions. Our aim is to achieve zero net deforestation in high-risk supply chains by 2020. Supply chains at high risk for deforestation and land degradation include palm oil, packaging fiber, beef, soy and sugarcane. Risks include deforestation of high conservation value landscapes (HCV) and high carbon stock forests (HCS), and draining of peat lands. We aim to address all high-risk commodities of material significance, assess supplier practices in these commodity supply chains and, where necessary, take action to address material issues. We will take a similar approach in new markets where we may expand our business in the future. We will regularly report progress towards the zero net deforestation goal.
- Lead a long term, multi-stakeholder water stewardship strategy - inclusive of local communities - focused on improving the health of the most-at-risk watersheds we access for growing and for our operations. As a crucial agricultural input, water is critical to climate risk mitigation.
- Contribute to cross-industry efforts on food waste reduction and donate surplus food. Reduce food waste, which, when landfilled, creates methane – a GHG 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- Ensure responsible governance and oversight of all sustainability efforts, including climate mitigation and adaptation. Convene the General Mills Sustainability Governance Committee 3 times per year to review and approve strategies, programs and key investments. Led by the CEO, the Sustainability Governance Committee includes senior functional and operating leadership. The Public Responsibility Committee of the Board oversees global sustainability efforts.
To adapt, we will include the following in our planning:
- Invest in proprietary plant breeding programs with the goal of providing farmers with seeds that deliver high-yield, high-quality crops despite climate variability.
- Support innovation of practical tools for farmers to reduce their environmental impacts, especially GHG emissions. Provide technical assistance to growers in partnership with suppliers, NGOs and industry roundtables.
- Support development of tools and systems that monitor climate change at the regional and farm levels with the goal of enabling more rapid adaptation to changes in weather.
- Engage external experts/leaders on climate, agriculture and water to advise General Mills on our long term climate adaptation efforts.
- Engage multi-stakeholder groups - such as Field to Market, RSPO, Bonsucro, World Cocoa Foundation - that include governments, NGOs, industry peers, direct suppliers and farmers to advance sustainable agriculture tools and practices for developed markets and for smallholder farmers in the developing world. In each case, our approach will address climate risk.
Regarding disclosure and advocacy, we will:
- Report progress against goals – our own as well as those in our broader supply chain - on an annual basis via our Global Responsibility Report, available on the General Mills website. This includes communication about our sustainable sourcing and climate adaptation efforts within key ingredient supply chains. Disclose total volumes sourced for palm oil.
- Participate in CDP (the Carbon Disclosure Project), including annual reporting on Scope 3 emissions data, the Forests Information Request, as well as WDP (the Water Disclosure Project).
- Advocate for effective and efficient public and industry association policy, such as encouraging peers to join the CGF zero net deforestation commitment. We will report on industry engagement annually.
- We will regularly review our company statements and policies to ensure they are aligned with our mitigation targets, plans and adaptation initiatives. Where material, we will report on governance-related activity on climate policy.
1 IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers, 31 March 2014
2 IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers, 31 March, 2014, p. 18
3 IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers, 31 March, 2014, p. 19, 21