Ken Powell calls sustainability an opportunity

by Keith Nunes
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ARLINGTON, VA. — The food and beverage industry should view the issues of environmental and social sustainability as opportunities, said Ken Powell, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis.

Kicking off the Sustainability Summit, a conference jointly sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association and taking place this week, Mr. Powell said sustainability is an issue that is good for business and one that consumers care about.

“Now some might consider us as an industry to be on the defensive,” he said. “But should we look at sustainability as simply a problem to be fixed? I think the answer is absolutely not. Sustainability efforts are not only the right thing to do; they are also good for business.

“I think sustainability efforts fit well with many of our business goals. Our ability to thrive is dependent on the future availability of raw materials, whether it is grains, dairy products, oils, food, packaging or transportation. It is also good for business, because consumers care about this issue and they are turning to companies that share their sensibilities; they are embracing companies that share their values.”

But Mr. Powell cautioned that the issue is not something to be addressed in a short-term fashion. He noted that new ideas develop, new technologies are created and new cost structures emerge.

“What was impractical just a few years ago today can make perfect sense,” he said. “In our effort to build our companies and protect the environment, I think we need to take a long-term view of this issue.”

As a result of his company’s efforts, 85% of all waste generated by General Mills’ manufacturing facilities is either recycled or generated for some other beneficial use; all of the packaging used in the company’s Big G branded cereals and Betty Crocker cake mixes comes from recycled paperboard; and the company also has made gains in improving the density of the of the packaging used for Hamburger Helper and Totinos products.

“This effort is not only good for the environment, but is also lowering our costs and providing our retail partners with added efficiencies,” Mr. Powell said.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Powell said environmental issues may be “the issue of our time.”

“It is a big problem that will require a significant and sustained effort from all of us,” he said. “And our industry, with its size and its footprint, can make a huge contribution to this issue.”

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