Digging in to the Whole 'O' of Sustainability at General Mills

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

Everyone has heard of a Cheerio, of course, but who's heard of Cadwallader Washburn? I'll bet very few have -- I know I hadn't. Besides having a terrific name, he was the founder of what would become known as General Mills.

Both businessman and innovator, he used the power of water going over the St. Anthony Falls to run his first flour mill. Today there remain at General Mills individuals like Chief Sustainability Officer Jerry Lynch to carry on this heritage of innovation, stewardship, and continuous improvement. Jerry and I packed a lot of content in a short 24 minutes, discussing their 2015 sustainability goals, holistic margin management, their relationship with their brands, pre-competitive strategic partnerships, the issues surrounding food waste, and much much more.

Jerry LynchSustainability is certainly one thing at a small shop but what do you do with 35,000 employees to make real progress? Certainly one way to do it is to set goals. Most of us have likely set a couple already in this new year -- it feels good and better ensures success. 2015 is the year for General Mills and they are already plugging away at achieving their goals, focused on water, greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste, energy, packaging, and transportation.

And they aren't starting from square one. Take water: In the last 5 years they have reduced their water usage in manufacturing by more than 10 percent and are committed to a further reduction by 15 percent by 2015. Packaging: Their Nature Valley brand has reduced their packaging 13 percent resulting in 6 million pounds of paperboard saved annually. Solid waste: They have already reduced solid waste more than 30 percent in the last 5 years. They are striving for an additional 20 percent.

I mentioned holistic margin management. This type of management is the reason we will most likely see General Mills meeting or exceeding their goals in three years. For the past six years, General Mills has been focused on calling on cross-functional teams to understand the drivers of value for their brands and to eliminate non-value added costs and activities throughout the supply chain. Total employee ownership of the processes. A anecdote that Jerry mentions is the installation of energy meters on several pieces of equipment at their Covington, Georgia plant that led to annual savings of more than $600,000. It works.

There is much more to learn from our conversation including my beloved topics of energy efficiency and food waste, so listen away, take notes, and smile! 2012 is going to be a good year.

George Papoulias edited this podcast.

Cheerio photo via Shutterstock.com.