"We don't need a sustainability strategy, we need a strategy that is sustainable."
So said Jerry Lynch, the Chief Sustainability Officer of General Mills, during recent a briefing with the GreenBiz.com editorial staff.
Although Lynch was quoting another CSO, Peter Graf of SAP, in recounting the quote, the idea is the same, a mission of seeding sustainability throughout operations, rather than building a green team to spearhead a sustainability initiative.
General Mills has been pushing on green issues since about 2005, Lynch explained, and is steadily seeking to expand its reach on sustainability. The company began its sustainability initiatives with a focus on its manufacturing plants, simply because that was the area where the company has the most control over its operations.
But in tracking its internal and supply-chain emissions, Lynch said that GM has come to a few realizations about where its impacts come from.
"The vast majority of our inputs come in through suppliers who provide value to us here in sorting or milling or roasting or adding flavor and it's in very few situations that we're buying directly from farmers," Lynch said.
"[Our customers] wanted us to do the cooking, essentially -- rather than toasting the toast at home, they wanted us to cook the granola bar or toast the cereal," Lynch said, "and so that had an impact."
To address those impacts, Lynch said that GM is in the process of piloting a supplier scorecard to help measure the impacts along their supply chain.
The company has already begun surveying their top suppliers, and will over the course of the next 12 months develop a scorecard to measure the impacts of their suppliers, and more importantly help to pinpoint "hot spots" that are areas for quick improvement.
General Mills' scorecard will be based on one developed by Procter & Gamble, which P&G has made freely available for other companies to use, a solution that Lynch said made sense on a number of levels.
Not only did P&G put a lot of effort into developing their scorecard, which keeps GM from having to reinvent the wheel, but building their scorecard off of P&G's tool helps to minimize a growing problem for corporate sustainability: Survey overload.
"It's really important for us, as an industry, in order to be effective in this process so that we try to be somewhat standardized," Lynch said. "Suppliers don't need 47 different scorecards to fill out. They need one or two to fill out, so they can focus on all the aspects of the business without [surveys becoming] a problem."
Building their own scorecard off an already-established one will not only make it easier for General Mills' suppliers to complete the survey, Lynch said it will make it easier for suppliers to actually adopt it and take it seriously.
"It's going to start with a conversation, and that conversation will help us understand what we're seeing from our people," Lynch explained. Because the company is still in the pilot phase, next steps on the project are a bit hazy, but "clearly, we'll work with our suppliers to identify hot spots that we should be working on."
One example of a hot spot Lynch mentioned was vanilla growers in Madagascar. In the wake of a fungus that has plagued the vanilla crop in the last few years, General Mills is partnering with farmers there to maintain and improve the harvest of a crop that's vitally important to General Mills' Haagen-Dazs ice cream, among other products.
The supplier scorecard was just one facet of a wide-ranging discussion that touched on everything from General Mills' 150-year history to how the company is using what it calls Holistic Margin Management to get employees at every level of the company thinking about efficiency and sustainability in their daily work. We'll have more on General Mills' supply chain work and other efforts in the coming weeks, and you can read more about their current achievements at General Mills' CSR website.
Cheerios photo CC-licensed by Tsar Karim.