story by Kim Souza
Partnering for a greener world was the theme of Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Expo event held Tuesday (April 29) in Rogers. The retail giant assembled a cast of global suppliers, environmental advocates, supply chain experts, farmers and ranchers for the three-day event.
Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and administrator over Wal-Mart’s global sustainability initiative, opened the first session by noting that the expo had convened suppliers representing $100 billion in sales at Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon announced a partnership with eight corporate partners and the Walmart Foundation to launch a recycling initiative called the Closed Loop Fund, a investment group that will funnel money to cities across America looking to improve their recycling capabilities. The fund aims to invest $100 million in recycling infrastructure projects and spur private and public funding toward making a real difference in the recycling system in the U.S.
Companies signing to pledge their support to the Closed Loop Fund include: Wal-Mart and its foundation; John Bryant, CEO Kellogg Company; Rob Gehring, global account leader, The Coca-Cola Company; Kees Kruythoff, president, North America for Unilever; A.G. Lafley, chairman and CEO, Procter & Gamble; Roberto Marques, company group chairman for Johnson & Johnson; Denise Morrison,CEO Campbell Soup Company; Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO PepsiCo; Monique Oxender, senior director-sustainability for Keurig Green Mountain; Ken Powell, chairman and CEO General Mills; and John Weinberg, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs Group.
Nooyl said people have recycled for 20 years and with all the receptacles that have been made available and the push by businesses during that time, recycling has only increased 8%.
“There is huge opportunity here and this Closed End Fund will help bring this down to the city and neighborhood levels where behaviors have to change,” Nooyi said.
Another interesting perspective was that only one in five people recycle plastic bottles used in the bathroom, according to Johnson and Johnson.
“Walmart and our suppliers recognize that collaboration is the key to bringing sustainable solutions to all of our customers,” McMillon said. “A great deal of innovative work is happening every day, but there are still too many gaps and missed opportunities. Today’s commitments are about creating real systems change from one end of the supply chain to the other — meaning how products are grown and made, how they’re transported and sold, and how we touch the lives of people along the way.”
Eight of the largest food companies joined McMillon on stage to announce pledges to help move the collective needle in the ongoing sustainability movement. The commitments aim to drive more collaboration and efficiency across the current food system. In total, this work is expected to bring eight million acres of farmland into sustainable agriculture programs and eliminate six million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
The Expo highlighted several initiatives to further expand access to sustainable products and create more transparency in the supply chain:
Together with Procter & Gamble, Wa-Mart announced a commitment to a 25% reduction in water per dose for all liquid laundry detergent.
In the area of fertilizer management, Wal-Mart last year set a goal of optimizing 14 million acres of farmland with the potential to reduce seven million metric tons of GHGs. Combined with progress already made, the new pledges announced today will help advance that goal by optimizing an estimated 10 million acres and eliminating 8.5 million metric tons of GHGs.
Working with Cargill, Wal-Mart is developing a small-scale pilot focused on improved beef supply chain visibility, including increased traceability elements resulting in more visibility from farm to fork. This is part of the retailer’s goal to source 15% of its beef supply with environmental criteria by 2023.
In collaboration with Conservation International and suppliers, Wal-Mart has converted 27% of the palm oil used in its private-brand products from conventional to sustainable palm oil.
Wendy Cleland-Hamnett director of chemical safety for the FDA, provided an update on the need for sustainable chemistry.
“I am thrilled with work Wal-Mart and the suppliers are doing to bring about changes in the chemical sector. The FDA guidelines are the floor, Through voluntary leadership we are seeing businesses raise the bar,” Hamnett said.
Not all Wal-Mart watchers are convinced the new pronouncements will lead to change.
“At the Walmart Sustainability Product Expo today, Walmart CEO Doug McMillan and other senior leaders once again offered shallow promises with little substance and refused to acknowledge major failures in the company's track record on sustainability,” noted a statement from Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and author of Walmart's Assault on the Climate.
Mitchell said Wal-Mart has a history of broken promises related to landfill waste, renewable power, climate change and sustainability efforts.
“By pushing suppliers to lower cost, Walmart has dramatically cut product lifespans, leading consumers to buy and discard an ever growing volume of shoddy clothing, electronics, and other products, according to federal data,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also alleges that use of renewable power in the U.S. by Wal-Mart has declined 25% in the previous two years, and that sustainability drives rarely produce results.
“Walmart has a history of failing on its pledges to sell sustainable products. In 2011, for example, Walmart abandoned its promise, made 3 years earlier, to ‘work with suppliers to make the most energy-intensive products in our stores… 25 percent more energy efficient.’ It also failed to meet its 2009 promise to reduce phosphates in laundry and dish detergents by 70% by 2011 and abandoned a 2008 promise to sell only Energy-Star rated air conditioners,” according to Mitchell.
‘WALKING THE TALK’
Wal-Mart officials noted throughout the day that sustainability is a journey and after 10 years, there is still much work to be done. In the true Wal-Mart fashion of leveraging its scale, the retailer is asking more from its supplier partners up and down the chain. McMillon said such requests of the suppliers also means Wal-Mart must be seen as “Walking the Talk.”
Wal-Mart announced plans to create a sustainability store on Walmart.com – shopping portal, expected to launch by the of this year. This shop in a shop will allow customers
to easily identify brands that are leading sustainability within a category via a special icon.
“No one should have to choose between products that are sustainable and products they can afford,” said Manuel Gomez, vice president of sustainability for Wal-Mart. “We want to make sustainability easy by taking the guesswork out of values-based shopping. Accessibility and transparency really put the customer in the driver’s seat.”