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General Mills tells suppliers to cut greenhouse gases, follows Wal-Mart’s lead

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of The City Wire focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by The City Wire and sponsored by Propak Logistics.

General Mills is pushing its sustainability goals by insisting that the companies it uses in its products and packaging take steps to shrink their carbon footprint and reduce water usage.

The company is one of Wal-Mart’s largest suppliers, and pushing sustainability goals down the chain is a page from Wal-Mart’s own sustainability initiative.

The packaged-food giant recently spelled out changes in its corporate policy geared at being better for environment and better for the bottom line profits. 

In a blog post dated July 28, the company noted that weather conditions such as drought, floods and excessive heat can decrease output of the crops that make up its core cereal brands and other food products. It also says changing weather patterns can affect delivery of products to customers.

John Church, supply chain executive at General Mills, pledged to buy its 10 most frequently used ingredients from sustainable sources by 2020. Those ingredients comprise 50% of the company’s total purchases.

Church said the new policy continues with companywide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in its operations and in agriculture. General Mills has had specific GHG in place since 2005, but is barely scratching the surface given that the majority of GHG and water use linked to its carbon footprint comes from its supply chain and agriculture production of raw materials.

Environmental groups like Oxfam and the Environmental Defense Fund applauded the move as they have called for big brands to use their clout in creating more awareness around sustainable agriculture. In April, General Mills CEO Ken Powell joined Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon in announcing a commitment to accelerate innovation in sustainable agriculture through an initiative with industry trade group Field-to-Market. 

Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills, said Field-to-Market, Wal-Mart and General Mills recently convened in Idaho with farmers to kick off the new challenge aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions through nitrogen fertilizer optimization. The technologies selected through this program will help farmers make sure that every pound of nitrogen they apply is used by their crop in the most effective manner in order to garner the greatest yield at the lowest cost and with the minimal impact on the environment.

Lynch outlined three examples being used by farmer in the program.
• Fieldprint Calculator
This device provided by FTM allows farmers to track information related to their specific farm. They are able to compare how they are doing compared to average results in their area. The farmers may then identify opportunities to improve their results and increase productivity in future years while having a positive impact on land use, conservation, soil carbon, irrigation water use, water quality, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

• Fertigation
This technology allows the application of nitrogen at the same time irrigation water is applied. This approach helps prevent the loss of nitrogen into the air that occurs when fertilizer is applied to the top of the soil by placing the nitrogen right at the roots of the plants, where it is needed.

• Aerial imagery analysis
This technology is helping farmers target specific parts of their fields that require herbicide or fertilization treatment, avoiding the cost and potential environmental damage of spraying an entire field.

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Lynch said General Mills will release the results of the new practices this winter and it will continue to build upon the toolkit of technologies in the coming months.

“Accelerating innovation in sustainable agriculture will continue to be a priority for Wal-Mart and General Mills given the promise it holds for farm communities and the long-term value it provides to society, the environment and business,” Lynch said.

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