On July 16th, Walmart announced plans to develop a worldwide Sustainable Product Index. This index will measure the environmental costs that go into the creation of Walmart's products. The concept is for consumers to know not just the impact a product will make on their wallet, but the impact the product has made on the Earth from creation to transportation and finally to eventual disposal. The consumer will know a lot more about their products, including how much responsibly sourced raw materials went into the making of the piece and whether the company invests in community development. Walmart's wants this program to embrace transparency and allow their customers to make informed decisions.
Walmart will begin to identify the index of each product by asking its top-tier U.S. suppliers to complete a survey of questions determining the environmental impact of the product and company by Oct. 1. There will be a separate time line for companies outside of the U.S. The survey questions include how much the solid waste is generated from the facilities that create the product and what the total annual greenhouse gas emissions are of a company. The full list of questions is below.
"These are not complicated questions, but we have never systematically asked for this kind of information before," the press release states. It's important to remember the purchasing power this company has. Whereas a smaller company my not be able to compel its manufacturers and suppliers to comply with answering these questions, Walmart, as the worlds largest retailer, wields enormous power in the industry.
The next step for the program after surveying its retailers is an entire life cycle analysis. Walmart will fund a consortium of universities, suppliers, retailers and government and non-government agencies, who will create this index. The good news for consumers is Walmart does not intend to create or own the index, leaving open the possibility for its use outside of Walmart stores.
Starting a program such as this one one that could lead to higher costs for the company or the consumer in an economic crisis may seem like an unwise decision, but Mark Duke, President and CEO of Walmart believes it is the perfect time for the Sustainability Product Index. During Walmart's Sustainability Milestone Meeting, he summed up the rationale in three points: "First, the economic crisis is leading consumers toward a 'new normal' where they not only want to save money they are getting smarter about saving money. Second, in this age of social networks and instant information, consumers increasingly expect more transparency on the products they buy. Today, there is no trust without transparency. There's a third longer-term shift. We're living in a world of increasing population and decreasing natural resources. "
The final form of the index is still unknown. It could be a numeric score, color code or label, according to Walmart. But the goal according to the press release will be for consumers to have "a simple, convenient, easy to understand rating, so they can make choices and consume in a more sustainable way."
Consumers won't see the Sustainability Index anytime soon, but you can learn from the questions Walmart will be asking its suppliers. Although the average consumer doesn't have the purchasing power to demand sustainable practices from their retailers, these questions will give you an idea of the topics to research when looking for your own sustainable goods. By asking them, you'll send a signal to store owners that these issues matter to you and influence your buying decisions.
Energy and Climate: Reducing Energy Costs and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Material Efficiency: Reducing Waste and Enhancing Quality
Natural Resources: Producing High Quality, Responsibly Sourced Raw Materials
People and Community: Ensuring Responsible and Ethical Production
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