One third of the planet’s rivers and aquifers – which impact half of the world’s population - are experiencing water shortages.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. Agriculture accounts for 69% of global water withdrawals, mainly for irrigation.3 Our business also depends on the strength of the communities in which we operate. Safe water in ample supply is critical for these communities and for our business. General Mills requires good quality fresh water in both our direct and indirect operations: for agriculture, as an ingredient, and for sanitation, food safety and quality. We respect safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as an essential human right4 and we are exploring ways to expand access through our water stewardship approach.
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 cannot only manage the challenge, but we can also 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 and ingredient production (85%), and packaging (14%). For this reason, we have committed to advancing water stewardship plans for our most material and at-risk watersheds in our global value chain. Seven of our 10 priority watersheds represent a sourcing location for at least one ingredient. We are also exploring, through research and farmer pilots, regenerative agriculture as a means to improve water quality and quantity impact. improve water quality and quantity impact.
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.
- Pursue certification to the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s Water Stewardship Standard at facilities that rely on priority watersheds.
- Engage suppliers as partners in responsible water stewardship. Within key ingredient supply chains, demonstrate improvements in water stewardship outcomes, e.g., through our regenerative agriculture pilot with wheat growers in Kansas’ Cheney Reservoir watershed.
- 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 Social Impact Governance Committee 4 times per year to review and approve strategies, programs and key investments. Led by the CEO, the Social Impact Governance Committee includes senior functional, business, 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.
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, signing on to the CEO Water Mandate and to set context-based goals and actions plans in accordance with the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard.
- Test the methodology, as a pilot company, for setting a Science Based Target for Freshwater target in accordance with our water footprint and potential for positive impact.
1. UNICEF Progress on Household Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene 2000-2017 (2019).
2. Brauman, et al. “Water depletion: An improved metric for incorporating seasonal and dry-year water scarcity into water risk assessments.” Elementa (2016).
3. United Nations World Water Development Report: Valuing Water (2021).
4. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/292. The human right to water and sanitation, July 28, 2010. UN World Population Prospects The 2008 Revisions (2009).