When it comes to making headway in reducing carbon emissions and water usage, it’s always good to see corporations get on board. But when one of those corporations is mega-food company General Mills, there’s hope for real change on the horizon.
The Minneapolis-based corporation announced a new climate policy last week aimed at reducing its own greenhouse emissions and encouraging similar behaviors for companies in its supply chains. It will also work to promote government policies that guide other corporations in instituting climate mitigation and adaptation measures, according to the policy overview.
“Business investment in innovations that help reduce natural resource use and create energy alternatives is essential to reach scalable practices and technologies,” the overview stated.
General Mills estimates that its suppliers create about 92 percent of greenhouse emissions associated with its products, so looking beyond its own operations was key. To that end, the company will ask the providers of its 10 top ingredients to commit to instituting environmentally sustainable practices by the year 2020, according to the policy. Sustainable landuse, watershed protection, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste reduction will be the focus.
“The imperative is clear: Business, together with governments, NGOs and individuals, needs to act to reduce the human impact on climate change,” the overview stated.
The company’s effort was lauded by Oxfam, which recently began a strident push to get the food and beverage industry to address its contributions to climate change. General Mills was one of 10 companies the organization specifically called out in its May report, Standing on the Sidelines: Why Food and Beverage Companies Must Do More to Tackle Climate Change. Coca Cola, Kellogg, Mars, Pepsi, Nestle, Unilever, and Associated British Foods were among the others.
The report stated that if the top 10 food and beverage companies were a country, they would be the 25th most polluting country in the world and called them silent accomplices to an unfolding crisis. It called on General Mills and Kellogg, in particular, to make changes in the agricultural practices in their supply chains.
Although both companies disputed Oxfam’s claim that they were the worst offenders in the industry, General Mills clearly took heed.
“We applaud General Mills for taking this vital first step,” Oxfam campaign manager Monique van Zijl said in a statement. “We look forward to tracking the actions the company takes to follow through on their promises. The ball is now in Kellogg’s court to respond to the hundreds of thousands of people calling for climate action.”
Kellogg has not commented publicly on the General Mills policy or any similar measures it might take, nor is there any indication Oxfam’s other “Big 10” companies will follow suit. Still, as Bloomberg’s Eric Roston points out in The Grid Blog, the earnest and careful tack General Mills has taken could lead the industry no choice but to change.
“Will a vow of rigor and seriousness from one company solve the problem? No,” he writes. “Has the economic mainstream realized that this is a pretty big deal and they better get crackin'? Yes.”