On Tuesday, Sustainable Brands joined a couple hundred Walmart team members and industry influencers at Walmart’s eCommerce headquarters in San Bruno, CA to learn about an important milestone on the journey shared by those attending. What drew these players together was a shared interest in helping shift the world toward a sustainable economy — and an awareness of the key role Walmart has, and is playing, in spurring this shift along.
The announcement: The launch of a new Sustainability Leaders Shop and badge for products supplied by category leaders that will help Walmart.com shoppers become aware of, and select products that can make a difference in their day-to-day shopping online.
The Sustainability Leaders shop is the customer-facing iteration of Walmart’s Sustainability Index, launched in 2009 in collaboration with The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), an independent, third-party organization of academic-based scientists and more than 100 member organizations that creates tools and strategies to drive more sustainable consumer products. Over the last several years, Walmart has worked with suppliers, several leading non-profit organizations and TSC to build the Sustainability Index.
In a recorded interview that helped frame up Walmart’s recent history with sustainability, retired CEO Lee Scott harkened back to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a key pivot point for the company in its commitment to leverage its scale to drive positive change in the world.
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To paraphrase Scott: “Everything negative that comes from being a big company, comes automatically … The challenge is to find a way to leverage size for good. In responding to Katrina, we realized we could leverage our competencies and scale to deliver value even the US government was struggling to deliver.”
Carrying the ball forward on Tuesday, current CEO Doug McMillon framed up Walmart’s goals today as to be zero waste and powered by 100 percent renewable energy, and to source products that deliver sustainability to all.
Walmart’s partnership with TSC began in 2009 with a lengthy and taxing effort to develop science-based hot-spot analyses of the material environmental and social impacts of over 100 product categories. Since then, these hot-spot assessments have been translated into supplier surveys that enable Walmart to assess category leaders from among its suppliers, for what is now Walmart's Sustainability Index, launched in 2012. Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time this data is being offered up in a simplified manner to Walmart customers in the way of a Sustainability Leaders badge, which signifies to customers the Walmart suppliers that broadly lead the category in reducing unintended environmental and social impact.
While far from perfect (read the constructive criticism from EDF's Elizabeth Sturcken), we applaud Walmart’s move to equip consumers with some signal of varying supplier commitments to improve the footprint of their products. Walmart’s epiphany following Hurricane Katrina was not only a milestone in the history of its own sustainability journey -- its choice to bring its talents and resources to bear on a pressing problem in real time demonstrated leadership. In hindsight Walmart's response to Katrina turned out to be an early indicator of the real power of business to deliver value other than profit, and to solve challenges that even the US government struggled to address. The choices made by individuals at Walmart over those few days, and in the years since, have catalyzed many others to follow suit. In fact, their actions were a key catalyst in the launch of Sustainable Brands in 2006.
A decade later, the race is now on, with many others, including Sustainable Brands members Target, Unilever, Campbell, J&J, L’Oréal working dilgently, and largely behind the scenes to drive meaningful innovation on the road to a flourishing future. We are grateful for the continued leadership of those in our community, and are excited by this next chapter which heralds the advent of meaningful engagement of the mainstream consumer as partners in the most important challenge of the 21st century — to rebuild a global economy that supports a sustainable and flourishing future.