General Mills' Five-Year Goals Aim to Cut Impacts by 20 Percent

General Mills' Five-Year Goals Aim to Cut Impacts by 20 Percent

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General Mills recently laid out a set of new five year environmental goals designed to make its operations more efficient by 2015.

The company wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and water and energy each by 20 percent. It also plans to halve its solid waste generation by 2015. The goals are efficiency goals, normalized per metric ton of product, so the company could use more energy and water in absolute terms, but still meet these targets.

But judging from its performance for its previous five-year goals, reducing its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions may prove difficult for the maker of Cheerios, Chex and Betty Crocker products.

Through the end of fiscal 2010, General Mills had trimmed its energy use by 6 percent, less than half of its 2005 goal of reducing energy consumption by 15 percent. It also cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent, compared to its goal of a 15 percent reduction. General Mills exceeded its waste and water targets.

"Our 2005 goals were aggressive and we did not achieve them all," General Mills Chief Sustainability Officer Jerry Lynch acknowledged in a statement Friday. "But our progress has been substantial and we are raising the bar. We are learning and improving our capabilities in this area every day. We want to set goals that will stretch us to do more."

In its 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility report released earlier this year, the company discussed the challenges of meeting the energy and greenhouse gas targets. A change in product mix complicated its goal: Selling less flour and more processed cereals led to more energy-intensive production since cereals are cooked or toasted. Cereal is also less dense than flour, so selling more of it skews the normalized metric, which is based on tons of production.

Lynch sounded a note of optimism, noting that momentum appeared to be on the company's side: The gains in energy efficiency were largely made in the last two years.

In September, the company became the latest to make a sustainable palm oil commitment. By 2015, General Mills said it would only buy palm oil from sustainable sources. The company has also pledged in September to remove bisphenol A (BPA) from the packaging of its organic Muir Glen tomato cans.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user dpstyles™.