Food and Beverage Companies Go Green

Consumers are making choices based on sustainability efforts; here’s what the top food and beverage companies are doing. Includes bonus online content.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Kellogg is also minimizing water use. In early 2007, washing equipment was redesigned to reduce water use by 7 million gallons. At its Queretaro, Mexico, plant, 57 million gals. of water are reused each year.

General Mills: Recycling since the 1930s

In a 2007 survey by The Wall Street Journal and Harris Interactive, General Mills ( ranked No. 3 in social responsibility, the highest ranked food company. And it was ranked No. 10 in Corporate Responsibility Officer magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens.


Perils of greenwashing

A timely indicator of consumer concern, online buzz around sustainability grew 50 percent in 2007, according to Nielsen Online, BuzzMetrics. By Dec. 2007, messages jumped to 172,000. While early in the year, discussion was dominated by global warming, bloggers progressively addressed a wider variety of green related issues, with emphasis on personal action such as recycling, avoiding excess packaging, and carpooling. Discovery Channel’s TreeHugger led the top sustainability blogs for the year.

Consumers also hold corporations accountable for action and results, and bloggers are quick to condemn greenwashing, when they suspect companies misrepresent their environmental impact with aggressive PR campaigns – as spurious attempts to be “green.”
Top 5 Greenwashing Topics
Topic                                                Percent of Discussion
Contradictory actions                                  25% 
Incongruous with company/industry     21 
False misleading comments                      19 
Seek regulated oversight                           18 
General suspicion                                          17 

Source: Nielsen Online, BuzzMetrics (Blog activity from Jan 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007)

As early as the 1930s, the Minneapolis-based company began using recycled paperboard in its cereal boxes. General Mills has implemented environmental management systems to identify, track and report on key environmental parameters: wastewater, air emissions, water, transportation, packaging and greenhouse gases. Its five-year goals are to reduce water use by 5 percent, energy consumption by 15 percent, greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent and solid waste generation by 15 percent.

As a member of the Business Roundtable (BRT), General Mills is participating in the BRT’s Climate Resolve initiative, which reports annually the member companies’ contributions of greenhouse gases to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. The BRT initiative aims to reduce the emission of global warming gases by 18 percent from 2002 to 2012.

On the energy front, General Mills’ North American operations reduced total energy use since 2000 by 6 percent – nearly 1 million kWh, and international facilities reduced energy use by 3 percent.

To reduce the carbon footprint of just one product -- its Hamburger Helper package -- the packaging team reduced the number of pouches in each carton, and the product development team changed the shape of the pasta so it can be packed more tightly in the package. Those two changes resulted in a 20 percent carton size reduction, reduced the use of paper fiber by 890,000 lbs., trimmed greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent and took 500 trucks off the road.

Similarly, changing the case configurations for Progresso soup removed 2,000 tons of steel from Progresso’s annual steel input total, reducing costs and making lighter cans, which consumers prefer.

Reducing impact on landfills

Kraft Foods, ( Northfield, Ill., focuses on six areas that impact the environment: agricultural commodities, packaging, energy, water, waste, and transportation and distribution. Since 2001, the company has measured key environmental performance indicators (EPIs): water consumption, energy usage, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, solid waste generation and recycling rates.

As of 2007, the recycling rate for its manufacturing facilities was nearly 90 percent. Globally, the company has decreased water consumption by 34 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent, energy consumption by 25 percent and solid waste generated by 16 percent.


Buzz on sustainability

Issues                                Percent
Environmental issues         23% 
Corporate initiatives             18 
Government involvement    15 
Economic activities                14 
Land development/building 13 
Fuel efficiency                           8 
Transportation                          8 
Events raising awareness      8 
Organic food                             7 
Global warming                        7 
Lifestyle change                      6 
Corporate responsibility        6 
Recycling                                   6 
Organic living                           4 
Pesticides                                 2 
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