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Walmart Shares Its Sustainability Success Stories at Milestone Meeting

Yesterday, Walmart broadcast its Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting through its online portal The Green Room. The meeting celebrated the global retailer’s progress since the launch of its Sustainability Index in August 2012, a collaborative measurement tool that monitors product environmental impact. The essential role of partnerships in achieving progress, alongside the benefits of Walmart’s size and scale in influencing positive change, were key undertones.

Yesterday, Walmart broadcast its Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting through its online portal The Green Room. The meeting celebrated the global retailer’s progress since the launch of its Sustainability Index in August 2012, a collaborative measurement tool that monitors product environmental impact. The essential role of partnerships in achieving progress, alongside the benefits of Walmart’s size and scale in influencing positive change, were key undertones.

Recognized by Walmart CEO Mike Duke as “becoming a global standard,” the Sustainability Index follows on The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) initiative Walmart launched four years ago. A global organization of over 100 private sector participants from diverse industries such as textiles, electronics, agriculture, packaging and beyond, TSC advocates for a new generation of products from supply networks that address environmental, social and economic imperatives.

“We’re excited about the significant progress Walmart and its suppliers are making and value their partnership with us to address big issues and drive real social and environmental change,” said Kara Hurst, CEO of The Sustainability Consortium.

The session opened with Dan Bartlett, newly appointed EVP for Corporate Affairs at Walmart, followed by a series of stories that illustrated the power of buyer-supplier partnerships in achieving five key goals the retailer has deemed to have the greatest impact across its global supply chain. These five initiatives, selected from insights derived from the Sustainability Index and in collaboration with outside vendors and organizations, include:

  • Reducing fertilizer use in agriculture;
  • Increasing recycling and the use of recycled content;
  • Improving transparency and offering products with greener chemicals;
  • Expanding the Sustainability Index to international markets; and,
  • Improving energy efficiency.

Walmart susty initiatives small

Reducing Fertilizer Use in Agriculture

The overuse of fertilizer and pesticide in the US has proven to not only put a strain on farmer income, but also simultaneously degrade soil quality and contribute significantly to global climate change. Walmart announced a win-win goal with its agriculture suppliers to reduce 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gases through integrated fertilizer optimization plans over the next ten years. By 2020, Walmart and its suppliers have the opportunity to reduce fertilizer application on 14 million acres of farmland in the US.

Increasing Recycling and the Use of Recycled Content

Every year over 29 million tons of plastic are sent to landfill in the US alone, comprised of a staggering consumption of 1,500 bottles every second by Americans. Through the Index, Walmart will evaluate all suppliers using plastic in their products or packaging. Its overarching goals on this initiative are to increase the amount of plastic material collected and recycled as well as the amount that is returned into supplier packaging. Recognizing recycling as a systemic issue, the company has also partnered with municipalities and waste collection agencies to catalyze deeper change.

On the ground, Walmart and Sam’s Club announced a smartphone trade-in program that will kick off September 21, saving all U.S. trade-ins from landfill. Over the next seven years, Walmart aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by three million metric tons, which will subsequently add 15,000 new jobs in the U.S.

Improving Transparency and Offering Products with Greener Chemicals

Within Walmart’s consumables category, which includes beauty, personal care and household cleaning products, almost 80,000 chemicals are related to such goods, with customers using up to nine consumables daily. To reduce or eliminate select harmful chemicals in favor of greener alternatives Walmart has launched Consumables Chemicals. Under this policy, suppliers will be monitored for their progress on reduction, restriction, elimination and disclosure of ten priority chemicals. Beginning in January 2014, Walmart will advance transparency of its private label cleaning products through the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Labeling program. Information on these products and associated chemicals will be available on both packaging and online.

Improving Energy Efficiency

Across its general merchandise categories, such as electronics, appliances, toys and greeting cards, Walmart has identified major energy efficiency opportunities that provide both supplier and end consumer gains. Through its Index and working with suppliers and their supply chains, Walmart aims to reduce the impact of material sourcing, drive energy efficiency and stimulate innovative product design. Since launching, the Index has proven to challenge and instigate change amongst Walmart suppliers. Crayola, for example, responded by allocating 15-20% of its annual capital budget to new and energy efficient equipment, as well as committing to zero landfill by October 2014. In stores, Walmart recently launched its private label LED lightbulb, which the company claims is 79% more efficient than the average iridescent light bulb, and lasts up to twenty-two years compared to the average iridescent of 1,000 hours.

Expanding the Sustainability Index to International Markets

As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart will seek to amplify global impact through expanding the Sustainability Index to international markets. Launching in 2014 in Chile and Mexico, the Index will respond to respective markets’ challenges and opportunities while relating to the retailer’s global goals. Extensive surveys with suppliers have already been rolled out to identify supply chain baselines as well as to enable deep dives to inform development of sustainable procurement and sourcing policies.

Since the Index launched, it has been rolled out across 200 product categories reaching over 1,000 suppliers. By 2014, Walmart anticipates expanding the Index to include over 300 product categories with participation of up to 5,000 suppliers.

Looking to the future, Mike Duke concludes that the company has reached “…a point of inflection. Where we’ve had great progress but it is time to really accelerate, to really broaden, to really go after this even more.”

Watch the full Milestone Meeting online.

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