General Mills empowers zero carbon mission with regenerative agriculture and food waste cuts
The US multinational is also bolstering its environmental credentials with lower-impact packaging
28 Sep 2020 --- General Mills is pledging to reduce its absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent over the next decade and slash food waste in half. The commitment entails a strategic focus on regenerative agriculture and aligns with the UN’s Paris Agreement 1.5°C climate change target. The multinational is also committing to net-zero emissions by 2050.
The US branded food manufacturer is advancing regenerative agriculture across its sourcing footprint on one million acres by 2030, activating programs across the ingredient categories with the largest GHG footprint, and reducing its packaging’s environmental impact.
The Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) calculated General Mills’ absolute GHG commitment in line with the level of emission reductions necessary to sustain the planet’s health. General Mills was the first company to publish a goal approved by the SBTi in 2015.
In 2013, General Mills committed to sustainably source 100 percent of its ten priority ingredients by the end of 2020. In fiscal 2019, the company sustainably sourced 91 percent of its top 10 ingredients, representing around 50 percent of its total raw material purchases.
“Vanilla has been a challenge. During fiscal 2019, we more than doubled sustainable vanilla purchases despite ongoing market volatility and geopolitical instability,” Mary Muldowney, director global sourcing sustainability at General Mills, shares with FoodIngredientsFirst.
“We continue developing innovative opportunities in Madagascar to produce enough sustainable volume to achieve our commitment.”
According to General Mills, up to one-third of greenhouse gases stem from the food system and an estimated 80 percent comes from agriculture.
The multinational works with farmers and suppliers to address GHG emission reduction, water management and soil health to establish more climate resilient farms.
When implemented together, practices like cover crops, reduced tillage, diverse crops, biodiversity and integrating livestock can build soil health. Healthy soil can hold more water, increase resilience to floods and droughts, supply more nutrients to plants and purify water.
“Interest in regenerative agriculture is extremely high in each of our three pilot regions (the Northern Plains of North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Southern Plains of Kansas, and Michigan),” Dr. Steve Rosenzweig, senior soil scientist at General Mills, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“One of the program’s design elements is connecting farmers through social media and discussion groups, as we believe farmers learn best from other farmers, and we’ve seen mixed success.”
“Moving forward, we are implementing a program evaluation survey so we can source more insights from farmers on what elements of the program they’re finding useful, and where there is room for improvement.”
Food waste fight
Worldwide, 12 General Mills production facilities (24 percent of the global total) met zero-waste-to-landfill criteria at the end of 2019, meaning nothing was sent to landfill or incineration without energy recovery.
“We’ll reset our baseline and analyze where we will have the most impact to reduce waste in our operations, focussing on our current work in zero loss culture, innovation, and identify capital projects that will specifically help achieve this goal,” explains Diane Curelli, manager environmental risk & sustainability at General Mills.
Each General Mills production facility has a target to reduce production solid waste generation by 3 percent annually. This year, 64 percent of its total production solid waste was recycled, 28 percent was processed for energy recovery and 8 percent was disposed of, Curelli says.
“We closely manage our manufacturing processes to keep surplus food out of the waste stream. Surplus food is first offered to food bank partners to feed hungry people; the remainder is repurposed for animal feed or anaerobic digestion,” she tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
In fiscal 2019, 4 percent of General Mills’ total production was food waste and 1 percent went to landfills.
The branded food giant is also pledging to reduce its packaging’s environmental impact through better design, including decreasing materials use, switching to lower impact materials such as renewable and recyclable, and improving truckload packing efficiencies.
The company plans to source 100 percent of its fiber packaging from recycled material or virgin wood fiber regions that do not contribute to deforestation by the end of 2020. By 2019, it had achieved 99.5 percent of this target.
Moreover, in early 2019, General Mills announced an ambition to make 100 percent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030.
A place for plastics?
Plastics packaging constitutes only 12 percent of General Mills’ packaging material by weight in key markets. Jeff Hanratty, Applied Sustainability Manager at General Mills, says plastics will continue to play a role due to their food safety and low climate impact benefits relative to other packaging types.
“We actively seek more sustainable materials in the early phases of packaging design. For example, we launched a renewable, bio-based plastic film, partially made of plant-based materials, for Cascadian Farm cereal box liners,” Hanratty tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“This material change replaces about 270 metric tons of non-renewable plastic annually. The bio-film increases the sustainability of raw materials, reduces the packaging carbon footprint, and does not affect the recyclability of the material.”
Around 64 percent of General Mills’ plastic packaging in the US is widely recyclable, including cereal box liners.
“We recognize the value of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic to reduce our dependence on new plastics and the carbon footprint of our packaging. There are, however, unique challenges to using PCR for food packaging as food safety is the priority,” Hanratty continues.
General Mills is researching and developing PCR-based packaging solutions for food products. For example, it was the first major CPG in the US to commercialize partial PCR-containing box liners for Annie’s cereals, which appeared in stores in December 2018.
By Joshua Poole
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, PackagingInsights.
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