When it comes to aiming to make the world's largest retailer sustainable, Walmart is focusing on "key initiatives where it can use its size and scale to help address 'hot spots' and accelerate progress in supply chain sustainability," according to its latest sustainability check-in.
It's one of those great paradoxes, where a company synonymous for cheap products sold in a suburban big box can transform some markets for the better, creating incentives for the many manufacturers that need Walmart to survive to decrease packaging, increase energy efficiency or take other strides. Does it balance out the rampant consumption embodied by Walmart? You decide. Here's a quick look at the company's latest Sustainability Index, which will grow from 200 product categories to 300, and from 1,000 suppliers to 5,000 suppliers. The following bullets are in Walmart's words:
Increasing the Use of Recycled Materials. More than 29 million tons of valuable plastics are sent to landfills every year in the U.S. at a cost of about $6.6 billion annually. Walmart aims to grow both the supply and demand for recycled plastics so they can be diverted from landfill and get a second life. The company is working with cities to increase plastic recycling and with suppliers to increase the use of recycled content and make packaging more recyclable. Changes in packaging are already being implemented in product categories such as beverage, over-the-counter drugs, dairy creamers and berry containers.
Offering Products with Greener Chemicals. Walmart is working with suppliers to reduce or eliminate the use of priority chemicals used in consumables products in favor of greener alternatives. It will begin with household cleaning, personal care, beauty and cosmetic products, asking suppliers to transition to greener substitutes for priority chemicals.
Reducing Fertilizer Use in Agriculture. Walmart is requiring suppliers who use commodity grains, such as corn, wheat and soy in their products, to develop a fertilizer optimization plan that outlines clear goals to improve performance based on Index research. Through this program, the company and its suppliers have the potential to reduce fertilizer use on 14 million acres of farmland in the U.S. by 2020.
Expanding the Sustainability Index to International Markets. Walmart will expand the Sustainability Index and measurement to international markets with the goal of improving product sustainability at the global level. Walmart Chile and Walmart Mexico will launch the Index in their respective markets in 2014. In addition, South Africas Massmart has begun to include key Index questions in its supplier sustainability surveys.
Improving Energy Efficiency. The Index has uncovered the importance of energy efficiency in several product categories, such as televisions, plastic toys, small appliances and greeting cards. By working with suppliers to improve energy efficiency through the supply chain of these products, Index energy scores have already improved 23 percent in general merchandise categories. Walmart is now providing tools for suppliers to help track and reduce the energy used to produce these products.
Walmart's announcement pleased at least one hard-to-please environmental advocacy group, the Breast Cancer Fund, which celebrated Walmart's announced intention to remove as many as 10 suspect chemicals from cosmetics, personal and beauty care products, and household cleaners.
Walmarts decision to banish cosmetics and cleaners made with toxic chemicals will revolutionize the marketplace and help all of us live better by making safer products the new normal, said Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy for the Breast Cancer Fund and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.