General Mills: Protecting vulnerable watersheds critical to water policy

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

General Mills has identified areas of its supply chain network operating in at-risk watershed areas, including Mexico, China and the US
General Mills has identified areas of its supply chain network operating in at-risk watershed areas, including Mexico, China and the US

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Most water used by General Mills happens outside direct operations in agriculture and improvements must be made in at-risk watershed areas, says the company’s chief sustainability officer.

The cereal and snack giant unveiled a formal water policy and signed the United Nation’s CEO Water Mandate last month – pledging to continue water use reductions at facilities but also identify priority watershed areas and develop action plans with local stakeholders.

Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills, said the policy formalized a framework the company could follow in the coming years.

“We’re been tracking our water usage within our facilities since 2006…. The policy outlines many of the actions already underway within our direct operations and in collaboration with supplies and external partners. However, this is the first time we’ve shared a formal water policy publically,”​ Lynch told BakeryandSnacks.com.

He said General Mills had a goal to reduce water use within its facilities by 20% by 2015, but beyond that, watershed management was a huge focus outlined in the new policy.

“Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s fresh water and approximately 99% of the water consumed to create and distribute our products occurs outside our direct operations, primarily in agriculture. This is why we are identifying at-risk watersheds and working with partners to implement watershed health strategies,”​ he said.

Mexico, China and US vulnerable watershed areas 

Protecting vulnerable watersheds across the globe using a collaborative approach was the main priority, Lynch explained. 

Data from General Mills' Global Responsibility Report
Data from General Mills' Global Responsibility Report

Following a global water risk assessment, conducted in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), General Mills had identified the locations with the biggest risks.

“The company now has a clear picture of the most at-risk watersheds within its supply chain and is taking action to develop watershed health strategies for eight of the highest risk watersheds in its priority growing regions,”​ Lynch said.

Three areas were identified as having the biggest water risk: its facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico; its facility and growing region in Beijing, China; and its facility in Los Angeles, US.

Its facility in Shanghai, China scored fourth in the most ‘at-risk’ area assessment.

“Each watershed faces different challenges and will require a tailored approach,” ​Lynch said.

Work would take years to complete, he said, and would rely on several phases – from watershed assessments and detailed analysis through to water stewardship plans and monitoring with a variety of stakeholders.

General Mills said this multi-stakeholder approach would be the “foundation of success”​ in implementing its water policy.

The company’s full water policy can be found HERE​.

In July, this year, General Mills unveiled a similar public policy on climate change​.

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