By 2030, 40 percent of the population is projected to face absolute water shortfall.2 As world population grows to 9 billion by 2050, the likelihood of living in a water-stressed region grows with it.
Water is essential for life - for drinking and sanitation and to grow food, generate power, support commerce, and nurture ecosystems.
Food production, in particular, relies heavily on an adequate supply of clean water, for growing crops and making products for today’s consumer. Our business also depends on the strength of the communities in which we operate. Safe water in ample supply is critical for these communities. We respect “…safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”4
As one of the world’s leading food companies, we carefully consider our responsibilities to shareholders, employees, stakeholders and the global community in addressing global challenges. We believe that Governments must lead by establishing proportionate and clear guidance and water policies within which General Mills and other water users can operate and innovate to reach scalable solutions.
The water challenge will be one of the greatest our world will face and collectively address. No one entity can manage it on its own, but through global collaboration of all sectors, we can not only manage the challenge, we can convert it into an opportunity for all of us to thrive.
General Mills water stewardship
We must conserve and protect the natural resources and communities upon which our business depends. We recognize the essential role of water to our business and are taking action. Water stewardship is an integral part of our effort to continually reduce the environmental impact of our operations, including the impact that occurs upstream of our own facilities.
Since 2006, General Mills has had specific goals to reduce our water usage rate in our own facilities. We realize that the majority of the water required to bring our products to consumers is used upstream of our direct operations. General Mills has assessed that 99% of the water use associated with our value chain occurs upstream of our direct operations in agriculture, ingredient production, and packaging. For this reason we have committed to sustainably sourcing 10 priority ingredients by 2020, representing over 40 percent of our total ingredient buy.
General Mills water policy
Our business relies on healthy watersheds in the regions where we operate. We are taking steps to ensure the ongoing strength of our business in these watersheds through a 4-phase strategy:
- Global assessment of water stress to identify priority watersheds.
- Deep-dive analysis of priority watersheds to understand challenges and opportunities, including positive and negative impact of General Mills operations.
- Establishment of a multi-stakeholder science-based water stewardship action plan, including consultation with local stakeholders from relevant sectors (industry, agriculture, government, NGO, and communities).
- Implementation of water stewardship plan and monitoring for outcomes.
We are committed to multi-stakeholder collaboration as a foundation of success in implementing this strategy.
To mitigate and adapt to future water risk, we will address the following areas:
Direct operations (wholly owned)
- Ensure that our direct operations do not encroach on the human right to water and sanitation in the communities in which we operate. This includes providing a safe and healthy work environment, including safe water for drinking and hygiene in our facilities as well as setting targets for wastewater discharge in full compliance with local regulations and where needed, treating our wastewater internally before release to the environment.
- Endeavor to use the principles of the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s Water Stewardship Standard as a self-assessment guide at facilities within priority watersheds.
- Engage suppliers as partners in responsible water stewardship. Within key ingredient supply chains, demonstrate improvements in water stewardship outcomes, e.g. through continued strengthening and expansion of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.
- Set clear expectations that our suppliers provide a safe and healthy work environment including safe water for drinking and hygiene and they comply with all applicable environmental laws.
Multi-stakeholder water stewardship
- Pursue a long term, multi-stakeholder water stewardship strategy - inclusive of our suppliers, local communities, governments, NGOs, and industry - focused on improving the health of priority watersheds where our operations and growing regions are located.
- Ensure responsible governance and oversight of water risk mitigation and adaptation for General Mills operations and sourcing.
- 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.
- Review progress with the General Mills Board of Directors through The Public Responsibility Committee which oversees global sustainability efforts.
- Include water risk considerations in business decisions such as locating new facilities.
- Support innovation of practical tools for farmers to support water stewardship through partnership with suppliers, NGOs and industry roundtables such as Field to Market: the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.
Regarding disclosure and advocacy, we will continue progress in:
- Report progress against goals on an annual basis via our Global Responsibility Report, available on the General Mills website. This includes communication about our progress in implementing our watershed stewardship strategy and our sustainable sourcing efforts.
- Continue participation in the CDP Water Disclosure Project.
- Advocate for effective and efficient public and industry association policy and action, through actions such as encouraging peers to participate in the CDP Water Disclosure Project, to sign on to the CEO Water Mandate and to understand their water stewardship status via the self-assessment with the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard.
1. UNICEF Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012 Update (2012)
2. 2030 Water Resources Group, Charting our Water Future: Economic frameworks to inform decision-making (2009)
3. UN World Population Prospects The 2008 Revisions (2009)
4. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/292. The human right to water and sanitation, July 28, 2010