Providing food for a growing population with increased climate volatility and fewer resources is a challenge that affects our planet, our business and each one of us. The risks associated with climate change include extreme weather events that distress life and affect entire ecosystems; reduce crop yields; and increase 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.  The most recent science suggests we must act even faster, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. When climate volatility is coupled with a global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, the disequilibrium of natural resource supply and human demand for food, fiber and fuel presents a real threat to global stability. Potential risks include raw material ingredient 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 then reverse the negative human impact on climate change. Government policies that provide proportionate and clear guidance on mitigation and adaptation are essential for large scale progress. Cross-sector investment in innovations that help reduce natural resource use, sequester carbon and create energy alternatives is essential to reaching scalable levels of impact. Likewise, developing the right mix of market-based incentives to encourage and accelerate practice adoption is key. And, helping individual consumers make more sustainable choices is critical 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.
Effectively addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing climate change impacts and doing our part to tackle 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. Our Climate Policy establishes the broad framework from which specific targets and action plans will flow.
General Mills has assessed that over 90 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 been committed since 2014 to sustainably sourcing our 10 priority ingredients by 2020, representing 40 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. General Mills was the first company across any sector to set a science-based target initiative (SBTi) commitment in 2015 for GHG reduction of 28% across our entire value-chain out to Scope 3 (agriculture) by 2025 and to sustainable emissions levels in line with scientific consensus by 2050. We are committed to improving our most at-risk global watersheds within key growing and operating regions. 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 climate risk, 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, packaging and solid waste.
- Address GHG emissions’ reductions in line with our SBTi commitment across our broader value chain, with a focus on upstream agriculture.
- Advance regenerative agriculture as a key lever to mitigate GHG emissions and minimize the impact farming has on the environment.
- Fund research, farmer training and coaching to expand adoption of practices like no-till and cover cropping that mimic nature to improve overall ecosystem health and function.
- Within key ingredient supply chains, collaborate with suppliers, farmers and other trusted advisors to collect data and strive to demonstrate continuous improvements in material environmental, social, and economic outcomes. This includes leveraging industry collaborations like the Field to Market Fieldprint Calculator, the Canadian Fieldprint Initiative, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and the National Milk Producer Federation’s FARM Environmental Stewardship module. This also includes work with smallholder, conventional, regenerative and organic farmers to strengthen globally sustainable and regenerative farming practices.
- Address GHG emissions due to land use change through sustainable sourcing efforts in key supply chains and growing regions for General Mills ingredients at high risk for deforestation and land degradation including palm oil, fiber packaging and cocoa. Risks include deforestation of high conservation value landscapes (HCV) and high carbon stock forests (HCS); and draining of peat lands. Opportunities include application of mixed agroforestry as well as other regenerative practices.
- Address GHG emissions from our owned operations by investing in renewable energy and focusing on process efficiency.
- Lead a long term, multi-stakeholder water stewardship strategy - inclusive of local communities - focused on improving the health of our most-at-risk watersheds we access for growing and for our operations.
- Contribute to cross-industry efforts on food waste reduction and donate surplus food. Reduce food waste, which, when landfilled, creates methane – a GHG 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- Ensure responsible governance and oversight of all sustainability efforts, including climate mitigation and adaptation. The General Mills Sustainability Governance Committee (SGC) convenes three times per year to review and approve strategies, programs and key investments. Led by the CEO, the SGC includes senior functional and operating leadership. The Public Responsibility Committee of the Board oversees the global sustainability efforts and convenes three times per year.
- Ensure 100 percent of our packaging is recyclable by design by 2030.
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 to help address climate risk mitigation and adaptation such as the Dairy Sustainability Alliance, RSPO, Bonsucro, World Cocoa Foundation’s Cocoa and Forests Initiative, Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, Soil Health Partnership and the Soil Health Initiative.
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.
- Participate in CDP through annual reporting of Climate Change, Water Security, and Forests questionnaire.
- Advocate for effective industry association policy and collective engagement, such as the Consumer Goods Forum’s Deforestation Coalition of Action on Palm Oil, and report on industry engagement annually.
- Actively engage in public policy discussions to combat climate change. We support a comprehensive, national climate policy; have publicly called for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Climate Accord; support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan; and are members of Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP). See a list of our public actions here.
- 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.
- Formally support the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which develops voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for companies to provide information to stakeholders. General Mills is committed to providing our stakeholders with relevant information on climate-related issues. Our approach is summarized in our annual Global Responsibility report and CDP disclosure.
- UPDATE (December 2020): Steve Rosenzweig Senate Agriculture Committee Testimony
1 IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers, 11 March 2014
2 IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C
3 IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers, 31 March, 2014, p. 18
4 IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers, 31 March, 2014, p. 19, 21