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.

Often, while environmentally friendly products sound good, they aren’t in demand, and too often it is the company pushing green products on customers instead of the other way around.

Rice said Wal-Mart is developing measurements and working with the Sustainability Consortium to set standards and get buy-in from companies. Wal-Mart is also planning a customer campaign, Rice said.

“We’re not just doing this because of consumer pressure,” he said. “Frankly, we’re not getting enough consumer pressure.”

And what do Wal-Mart’s sustainability efforts mean to the consumer? In what ways will their impact be felt?

Like the example of wires in toy packaging, the impact will likely be felt by customers in a number of small ways that add up to large-scale sustainability benefits. As suppliers are being asked to examine the carbon life cycle of products from manufacturing to recycling, customers can expect to see changes in inventory and redesigns in packaging.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has cut greenhouse gas emissions by removing the plastic knob in the center of its CD cases. Labels on clothing have been changed to allow for cold water washing, thus saving electricity.

Wal-Mart has already made its truck fleet more efficient, and anything that takes costs out of the supply chain allows the company to continue to pass savings on to consumers and maintain the famous competitively low prices.

“At Wal-Mart, we know that being an efficient and profitable business and being a good steward of the environment are goals that can work together,” Kamalanathan said in an April 19 Q&A with ISEAL Alliance, the global association for social and environmental standards. “Sustainability is about reducing waste in the supply chain and in our operations. As Wal-Mart becomes more efficient and environmentally friendly, we’re also seeing that those same efforts are reducing our costs and allowing us to pass those savings on to our customers.

“Through the work that our operations team has done to improve the efficiency of our fleet and reduce the waste that comes out of a Wal-Mart store, they’ve returned, just in the last year alone, nearly $1 billion — $800 million — back to the business for something that is also good for communities in which we live and the planet we all share.”



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