Since its founding by an Illinois Congressman in 1856, General Mills has been part of America’s diet — a diet that is now being impacted by climate change. On Monday, the behemoth company, which is home to dozens of household brands, including Cheerios, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury, avowed newfound concern for climate change as part of a bigger movement by major corporations concerned with both profits and practices tied-up in greenhouse gas emissions. The announcement by General Mills comes two months after Oxfam launched a report calling out big food companies for their significant greenhouse gas emissions, and specifically noting General Mills as a “clear laggard.”
In a complete reversal, this week Oxfam praised General Mills for its “bold steps” in becoming a climate change leader and promising to reduce not only its operational emissions but also those in its supply chain. This makes the pledge more than a token gesture considering nearly two-thirds of General Mills’ greenhouse gas emissions and 99 percent of water use occur upstream from their direct operations primarily in the agricultural sector. In 2005, General Mills pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its direct operations by 20 percent by 2015, and in 2009, it also committed to reduce transportation fuel by 35 percent by 2015. These actions are not motivated merely by vague good intentions, but also calculated concerns regarding the impacts of climate change on business practices.
“Weather conditions such as drought, floods, and excessive heat can decrease yields on crops like corn, oats and wheat,” said John Church, executive vice president of supply chain operations at General Mills. “Changing weather patterns can also impact our ability to deliver quality products to our consumers and value to our shareholders. As weather volatility increases, General Mills recognizes the need to mitigate the climate change risks presented to humanity, our environment and our livelihoods.”
According to Oxfam, General Mills is the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term targets to cut emissions. General Mills also recently joined BICEP, or Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, a coalition of companies including Starbucks, Nike, and Timberland, advocating for strong climate and clean energy policies and legislation.
While General Mills stopped short of naming greenhouse gas reduction targets in their latest announcement, the company has committed to sustainably sourcing 100 percent of its 10 main ingredients by 2020, which would account for half its total purchases of raw materials. General Mills has also made an effort to reduce its impact on deforestation, a major driver of GHGs, by aiming to sustainably source three-quarters of its palm oil by the end of the year. Palm oil use is surging globally, and demand is weighing heavily on forested areas, especially in Southeast Asia where rainforest is being converted into oil palm tree plantations at an alarming rate.
With this new pledge from General Mills, Oxfam has turned its attention to another longstanding food company.
“We applaud General Mills for taking this vital first step,” said Monique van Zijl, who heads up Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. “The ball is now in Kellogg’s court.”