Big, small businesses pursue sustainability efforts

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 115 views 

Seven years ago, then-Walmart CEO Lee Scott laid out an ambitious agenda for the world’s largest retailer to improve its sustainability efforts globally.

It took nearly two years to formulate a series of measurable goals as Walmart’s initiative was closely watched by environmental groups, activists, and analysts interested in the retail giant’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint and lower its impact on the environment.

With more than 8,400 stores, 6,800 trucks, 55,000 trailers and 2 million workers worldwide the amount of energy, land use and waste generated by Bentonville-based Walmart was tremendous.

Every year since 2007, the company has released a report, its Global Responsibility Report, to highlight its progress towards several of its goals, which include creating zero waste, using 100% renewable energy, and selling products that sustain people and the environment.

In the 2012 report released today (April 16), Walmart says it now prevents 80.9% of the waste generated across all U.S. operations from going to landfills. The number was achieved through recycling, donating and repurposing waste.

Walmart said the reduction figure represents 11.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of taking more than two million cars off the road for a year. In other countries, Walmart is enacting waste reduction efforts but at a lower rate.

The global retailer also said it now utilizes 1.1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable energy. This equates to about 4% of electricity for Walmart buildings worldwide. Walmart said it also purchases another 18% from the grid and has 180 renewable energy projects in operation or under development, which use a diversity of innovative technologies, including solar power, fuel cells, micro-wind, and offsite wind projects.

Walmart says it has increased the amount of locally grown produce sold by 97%, and now nearly 10% of all produce sold in U.S. stores is locally grown. Walmart defines “locally grown” as products grown and sold in the same state.

The mass retailer said it is close to a larger scale release of its sustainability index, a scorecard developed with suppliers and academics that attempts to evaluate a product’s “green” score.

“Understandably, in some areas our progress is slower than we would like and sometimes we hit temporary roadblocks,” said CEO Mike Duke. “Our commitment is clear and our resolve to lead is stronger than ever.”

Walmart is not alone in its efforts. Nearly every major corporation is undertaking a sustainability program at some level.

Last Thursday (April 12) at the Clinton Presidential Library, the city of Little Rock’s Sustainability Commission convened a business summit to provide a forum for company leaders to share their success stories but also address challenges.

Eric Swindle with Heifer International explained that his company’s Little Rock-based world headquarters makes such good use of capturing and recycling rainwater that it keeps the water bill at a minimum.

“For a building our size, a water bill should be around $6,000 a month, especially in Arkansas in the heat of the summer,” Swindle said. “We’re able to harvest 2.2 million gallons of storm water on site and store it.. and we average $600 a month.”

In March, due to decent rainfall and unseasonably warm temperatures, Swindle said Heifer’s water bill was about $200.

AT&T was represented by a member of its corporate sustainability team from Dallas, John Schulz.

“For us, it’s all about electricity use and fuel use, so we’ve got robust programs in place to address electricity use at the facility level and we have a very robust fleet program,” Schulz noted.

AT&T is converting 15,000 fleet vehicles to alternative fuels and has embarked on an ambitious energy reduction plan at its more than 500 buildings nationwide.

Schulz also says that as a technology company, his firm has a vested interest in helping customers become more productive while reducing stress on the planet’s natural resources.

“Cloud computing is an example. Rather than you having to worry about running a server yourself and making sure it’s cooled efficiently, you can let that be done by someone whose job is to run an efficient data center,” Schulz said. “And the idea of telecommuting is important. Now, through the power of technology and connectivity, your work is what you do, not where you are.”

Mary Ann Coleman, associate hospital director for UAMS, says the confines and age of the state’s medical school campus has been the biggest challenge for their numerous green efforts.

“We are an old campus, a campus of over 50 buildings starting all the way from 1953, some of which are still in operation,” Coleman said. “The buildings have been crunched on top of each other. The docks and loading areas have been compacted and compressed to the point that as a part of our initial process we simply couldn’t find the space to put in the recycling equipment we needed.”

Coleman said UAMS has partnered with vendors willing to adapt their business practices to the school’s unique restrictions. For instance, UAMS’ recycling vendor comes daily — or more often — to remove trash from the midtown campus.

“Another thing we’ve done is put monitors on our compactors so that it automatically, wirelessly connects to them to say, ‘Hey, guys this compactor is full and it needs to be picked up at UAMS,’” she said.