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General Mills Sustainability Report: Energy Use Falls Another 6%, But 2011 a ‘Challenging’ Year

General Mills’ energy usage rate stayed flat in fiscal 2011 at just under 540 kWh of energy per metric ton of production, a 6 percent reduction from the company’s 2005 baseline, but it was the first year since 2007 that the company failed to record a decrease in its emissions rate per unit of production, according to the company’s latest global responsibility report.

The 2011 figure represents an absolute reduction of 49 million kWh. The food giant is targeting a 20 percent reduction in its energy consumption rate by 2015 against the 2005 baseline.

General Mills called 2011 a “challenging year” for progress towards its environmental goals blaming, primarily, a decrease in its business volume. The firm made less progress, percentage-wise, toward achieving its goals this fiscal year compared with previous years, according to the report.

The company has launched an energy audit program that aims to spread sustainability best practices throughout its facilities. A recent audit of the company’s Wellston, Ohio, plant identified 77 different opportunities for curbing energy use at the facility. These included everything from LED lighting in freezers to heat capture opportunities, representing a potential $1 million in annual savings for the plant, the report says.

In fiscal 2011, General Mills’ total greenhouse gas emissions due to energy use in its production facilities were 0.20 metric tons of C02 equivalent per metric ton of product, fractionally higher than 2010’s figure, which was also recorded as 2.0 metric tons (see graph). The company’s emissions remain at 8 percent lower than its 2005 baseline and it is less than halfway toward its target of a 20 percent reduction by 2015.

In absolute terms the company’s emissions fell by around 10,000 metric tons in 2011 – about a 10 percent reduction, year-on-year.

In January 2011, General Mills’ Fridley, Minn., facility opened a biomass boiler that burns leftover oat hulls from the production of the breakfast cereal Cheerios. The boiler produces 90 percent of the steam needed to heat the plant and produce oat flour. Burning oat hulls cuts the plant’s carbon footprint by 21 percent and saves about $390,000 per year, mostly from reduced natural gas costs, the report says.

The company’s water usage rate fell marginally year-on-year to 2.06 cubic meters per metric ton of production, down from around 2.07 cubic meters per metric ton of production in 2010 – roughly a 0.5 percent reduction. Since 2005 the company has achieved an 11 percent reduction in its water use, putting it over halfway toward its goal of a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2015. In absolute terms General Mills is now using 10.25 million cubic meters of water a year down from just over 10.8 million cubic meters in 2010 – around a five percent reduction.

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