Mary Jane Melendez, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer for General Mills; and President of the General Mills Foundation.

General Mills is blending regeneration and philanthropy to create impact.

How do you feed a hungry world without destroying the planet? And, how do you do so in a way that is just and equitable?

Agriculture and forestry activities generate 24% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The world population will reach 9.7 billion in 2050. And, a growing middle class in emerging countries is straining our global food supply.

Mary Jane Melendez is Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer for General Mills. She also serves as President of the General Mills Foundation. “It’s broader than philanthropy and broader than sustainability,” Mary Jane says. “It’s those two areas coming together to drive greater social impact.”

General Mills is a leading global food company whose purpose is to make food the world loves. They are a 150-year-old company that is using their scale to produce more quality food while reducing their footprint.

Regenerative Agriculture

“Our work is rooted in the earth,” Mary Jane explains, “and we want to restore it. We share a unique bond with nature. When there are threats to nature through changes in climate, those are threats to our business. At General Mills, this is a business imperative and a planetary imperative.

“Today, about a third of the world’s topsoil is degraded. We have lost about 40% of insect species on the planet, including pollinators that are important to our food. There is nothing about that fate that should be sustained. We don’t want to sustain declining ecosystems.

“At General Mills, what we’re being very thoughtful about is our responsibility to move beyond sustainability and think about regeneration.”

General Mills has committed to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030. Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming practices that enhance soil health, pulling carbon from the air and storing it in the soil. It helps land to be more resilient to extreme weather events.

100% Renewable Electricity

Scale can be a force for good as demonstrated by General Mills’ commitment to regenerative agriculture. But scale can also be a burden on the planet. In 2015, General Mills was the first company to publish a goal approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions across the company’s full value chain by 28% by 2025. That means that, no matter how much they grow, they committed to reducing their 2010 greenhouse gas emissions.

Last April, General Mills also set a goal of 100% renewable electricity worldwide by 2030.

“Technology changes quickly,” Mary Jane told me. “As new technologies come online, we are constantly keeping our eyes open for new ways to activate that technology, drive the investments to help reduce our greenhouse gas “

Serving the Community Before and After the Murder of George Floyd

Because General Mills is headquartered in the Minneapolis area, they have been involved in the community before and after the death of George Floyd.

On June 4, General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening wrote a post on LinkedIn titled Where We Go From Here. In the article Harmening begins by admitting “that systematic injustice and racism still exist.” He commits General Mills to action in five areas:

  • Immediate relief with food and household goods.
  • Recovery for neighborhood businesses.
  • Convening courageous conversations.
  • Partnering with a broad coalition.
  • Lending their voice to support policy and legislative solutions.

“As someone who grew up in Frogtown in St. Paul, I’ve driven through my neighborhood and seen restaurants I went to – gone,” Mary Jane explains. “For me, there’s a personal and meaningful element to this.

“At General Mills, we have fostered this culture of belonging. Seeing something like this in our community, which is so foreign to what we see in our business operations, and the way we interact and treat our employees, it was horrifying.

“We’ve been investing in racial and social inequalities to help close achievement gaps, employment gaps, and housing gaps – to help eliminate food deserts. We’ve been doing this a long time. In the Twin Cities alone, in the last five years, General Mills has invested more than $40 million to try to help close the social and racial inequality gaps.

“I’m very proud of the way General Mills showed up, being part of a letter around police reform. What is happening today to African Americans has to stop.”

Leadership Development Expert
About the Author
Tony Loyd is a leadership development expert. He is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and coach. He helps purpose-driven business leaders to thrive so that they can connect and contribute at a deeper level. Find out more at https://TonyLoyd.com.

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