Sustainability Efforts Mean Big Environmental Impact at Wal-Mart

by Todd Traub  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

Wal-Mart’s push for environmental sustainability, initiated by then-CEO Lee Scott in 2005, has ranged from small improvements in packaging to ambitious experimentation with building materials and even hybrid-fuel delivery trucks.

Rajan Kamalanathan, Wal-Mart vice president for ethical sourcing, said Wal-Mart tries to hold suppliers accountable through a system of third-party audits conducted by auditors who undergo frequent training by the Global Social Compliance Programme.

Suppliers, factories and workers are provided a helpline or email to confidentially report concerns, and violations are handled in a collaborative manner with, as a last resort, out-of-compliance suppliers being denied access to Wal-Mart shelves.

The company’s leadership acknowledges many goals are difficult to achieve but pledged to keep trying.

“It does take diligence. It does take hard work,” Duke said. “I’d rather set a stretch goal that really is one that’s out there that we have to work hard to achieve.”

“As we celebrate this 50th anniversary of Wal-Mart and think about all the opportunities we have in the next 50 years, I want to ask you to redouble your efforts,” Rob Walton said in his video remarks.

The Katrina Effect

Wal-Mart’s sustainability program began in 2005 under former CEO Lee Scott. Duke said the inspiration came at least partly from Wal-Mart’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans that year.

“We saw that scale, being a big company, can really work for good,” Duke said. “We saw that our size and our scale was able to benefit thousands of customers and thousands of our associates. It was really inspiring. And I think it really hit Lee also. … I really believe that led on to the discussions about the longer term impact that Wal-Mart could have.”

In 2009 Wal-Mart set out to establish a Sustainability Index by which to evaluate the sustainability of suppliers and their products. The index has three components: alignment with industry stakeholders about the best scientific metrics and information on product and category sustainability through the Sustainability Consortium, integrating that work into Wal-Mart’s core businesses, and using the information to engage customers.

The Sustainability Consortium is a diverse organization of global participants working toward world sustainability through improved products, services and consumption.

Part of the challenge has been to inspire consumers.

In an April webcast, Wal-Mart Director of Sust ainability Jeff Rice, UL Environment Vice President Libby Bernick and Lenovo Senior Engineer Mary Jacques addressed the challenge of raising consumer environmental consciousness and getting customers to actually buy what they say they want when it comes to green products.



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