General Mills Product Shifts Lead to Climate Goal Challenges

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — A shift to selling less flour and more cereal has made it more challenging for General Mills to meets its long-term energy and climate targets.

The company set goals of cutting energy and emissions each by 15 percent by fiscal year (FY) 2010, relative to a 2005 baseline. But as of FY 2009, energy use was down just 2.4 percent and emissions lower by 2.3 percent since 2005.

That's because flour is dense and can be produced with relatively less energy. Cereal, on the other hand, is more energy-intensive because it is cooked or toasted. Since it is also less dense than flour, it skews General Mills' energy use per metric ton of production higher.

If its product mix hadn't changed over the years, energy use and emissions today would be about 7 percent lower than in 2005, but it did make gains in water use and solid waste reduction, the company said in its 2009 Corporate Social Responsibility report released today. The report offers a progress report on its 2010 goals, lays the foundation for the creation of a new set of targets and offers snippets of individual achievements propelling the company forward.

For example, General Mills, recently named a top corporate citizen by CRO Magazine, is putting about 12 percent of the oat hulls used to make Cheerios and other foods into a feedstock for the company's first biomass-powered plant in Fridley, Minn. The hulls produce about 90 percent of the steam used to make oat flour and heat the plant. The move will save the company more than $500,000 a year and trim the plant's carbon footprint by 21 percent.

A virtual collaboration and video conferencing system reduced air travel by more than 9 percent, avoiding more than 1.5 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. This translates to nearly 1,800 fewer airplane trips.

A new computer system put in place in FY 2009 for its transportation system helped the company deliver products more efficiently -- 26 percent more cases of product per gallon of fuel. This has saved the company more than seven million gallons of fuel through the third quarter of FY 2010, or nearly 17 percent.

Water use grew in 2009 compared to the year before, both in absolute terms and per metric ton of product. When measured against 2006 baseline levels, total water use shrank 2.2 percent, putting the company about halfway to its 2011 goal of a 5 percent reduction. The company noted that one plant skewed the results due to a change in manufacturing processes.

The company, however, blew away its FY 2010 goal for solid waste generation with a 24.5 percent reduction in FY 2009 below 2006 levels. The company's original goal involved a 15 percent reduction. About 85 percent of the company's manufacturing waste is recycled or reused.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user dno1967.