Slowing or reversing the effects of climate change is a massive undertaking. Leaders at some of Minnesota’s largest companies hope that together they can have a more meaningful impact.
On Friday — World Food Day — a coalition of food, agriculture and retail companies outlined several areas on which their new partnership, called MBOLD, will initially focus. Soil health, water stewardship and plastic packaging are the environmental issues most directly related to the industries represented by the companies.
“We really need to feed a planet of soon-to-be 10 billion people and we need to do it in a way that’s sustainable and friendly to the Earth,” said General Mills Chief Executive Jeff Harmening, co-chair of MBOLD. “You realize that no one company, or one business, or one university can accomplish something that complex on their own, so what you need is a coalition of the willing to come together to address that.”
Other regional organizations, such as Grow North, have focused on improving collaboration between Minnesota’s wealth of food and ag players with a goal of spurring innovation and entrepreneurship. MBOLD is more specifically aimed at addressing global problems that threaten the food supply chain in the future.
“Clearly, the changing climate is the biggest issue weighing on the [food] system today,” Harmening said.
The new entity sits under the economic-development umbrella of Greater MSP. As such, the group is also focused on attracting and keeping a talented workforce in the region.
The group’s focus on soil health and water stewardship is a logical next step as several of the member companies have individually made commitments to expanding use of regenerative agricultural practices within their supply chains.
Co-chair Stephanie Lundquist, president of food and beverage for Target Corp., said they are also working on creating a circular economy for plastic films used to make shopping bags and food package liners.
Less than 4% of these plastics are recycled in the U.S. The group will work toward developing a closed-loop system where those plastics have more markets after their initial use.
In the short term, the coalition said it is looking at solutions for food insecurity brought on by the economic crisis of COVID-19.
The participating companies are supporting MBOLD financially, Harmening said.
JoAnne Berkenkamp, MBOLD’s managing director, said the organization intends to establish benchmarks to measure their progress on their goals.
“We’re still in the very early stages, but have already started some of this work with partners like McKinsey providing great guidance and support,” Berkenkamp said. As the group takes shape, she said, “we’ll be able to build more specific metrics and will share those openly once they’re in place.
Executives and leaders from Cargill, Compeer Financial, Ecolab, Hormel Foods, Land O’Lakes, Schwan’s Co., the University of Minnesota, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, Grow North and McKinsey & Co. round out the coalition.