Education is the key to environmental sustainability in the future. That was a primary message at the “Sustainability: Going Forward” panel at the Bentonville Film Festival on May 6 at The Record in downtown Bentonville.
The panel was moderated by Jim Halterman, West Coast bureau chief for TV Guide, and featured Laura Phillips, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart Stores; MT Carney, founder and CEO of the marketing agency Untitled Worldwide in New York City; TV/radio host and United Nations ambassador to Colombia Monica Fonseca; and singer-songwriter and philanthropist, Jewel.
Environmental education takes place on multiple fronts, including at schools and in homes, Fonseca said. Families can be reached through educating matriarchs, she added, also pointing to social media as “the perfect tool to inform everyone about these important issues, including good practices.”
Carney discussed the importance of large companies and organizations serving as role models, and, as a marketer, recommended some strategies for sharing information about the environment.
“Don’t make it feel like homework,” she said. “It has to feel like dessert, not the ingredients on the side that your mom forces you to eat. You should make things entertaining.”
She also stressed the importance of large organizations delivering messages in “bite-sized chunks, stackable pieces that people can actually absorb” and making sure they have the right intensions.
“You have to make sure you’re not being self-serving, doing it just to show off as an organization, but instead to act as an example for the people that are supplying for you, that are distributing for you and that are acting as your customers,” Carney said.
She added, “There’s nothing worse than people telling you how good they are. It just makes you want to look to see where they’re not, especially huge corporations. People are looking for reasons to disbelieve you.”
Phillips talked about the sustainability “journey” Wal-Mart has been on for about a decade, including its goals to create zero waste, operate on 100% renewable energy and sell products that are good for the environment. Now, about a quarter of the energy Wal-Mart uses is renewable, and the retailer has diverted three-quarters of its waste. It now has new goals in place for 2025, she said.
Those new initiatives include Project Gigaton, which aims to remove a gigaton of emissions throughout Walmart’s supply chain before 2030. The panelists agreed that it is important for any claims of sustainable practices be true and accurately portrayed. Consumers “can tell baloney when they see it,” Jewel said. “It has to be real, and it has to be really deeply ingrained in your culture.”
THE BUSINESS OF TRUST
“At Wal-Mart, our biggest asset is a relationship with the customer that’s built on trust. We have this vision of becoming the most trusted retailer,” Phillips said. “It takes time to build, but it’s of such fundamental importance to what we’re doing.
“We want the customer to shop with us, who walk into our stores, who shop with us online and shop in our clubs, to know we’ve done the hard work,” Phillips said, pointing to a few recent initiatives, including a women’s T-shirt that is now being sold at Walmart and was made with 50% less energy 30% less water, and traceable U.S. cotton. The T-shirt is priced at less than $5 and was made in a factory where workers are treated well.
As a marketer, Carney said: “When people do that level of work and take that level of care, it actually makes my job marketing it much easier. When it’s true, it’s not hard to tell the story.
“I think most companies are trying to be good,” she added. “There are very few companies there are very few people that are not trying to be good.”
In fact, it’s good for business, she said.
“One of the things people don’t realize sometimes is that acting in a way that is sustainable, in a way that’s good for the planet and in a way that’s good for the people and that represents diversity is actually very profitable as well. It’s not a tax,” Carney said. “It actually delivers profits. You have a much stronger connection and relationship with customers.”
This is because it’s what consumers want, Phillips said.
“Our customers are wanting more and more information, and we’re working to find ways to deliver that,” she said.
One method is at the item level, with labels that, for example, provide recycling instructions or say the product was made with renewable energy. For personal care items, the bottle might say it is made with sustainable palm oil, Phillips said.
Wal-Mart researches relevant sustainability measures for each category, whether its apparel, seafood or produce, and has evaluated $200 billion in product, she added. It is one situation where data comes into play, and measuring their progress in environmental initiatives is another.