Walmart's sustainability hits and misses

The massive retailer manages a 10.6 percent absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but continues to miss the mark eliminating PVC from its private-label packaging.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

There are certain companies that anyone interested in corporate sustainability feels obliged to follow closely, and Walmart is definitely one of them. Accordingly, there is a lot that is positive in fourth report on such matters, a report it now calls the Walmart Global Responsibility Report. Here are some highlights:

  • An absolute reduction of 10.6 percent in greenhouse gas emissions for its stores by the end of 2009 (its latest data) versus the base line it set in 2005. The company is now targeting a reduction million metric tons of emissions from its global supply chain by 2015.
  • A reduction in plastic bag waste of about 48 million pounds, or 3.5 billion bags globally
  • Walmart now redirects about 81 percent of the waste collected in California, and it has extended these practices to its other locations across the United States
  • Approximately 73 percent of the total pounds of wild fish and farmed seafood is now certified for sustainable harvesting practices

In his letter, Walmart Stores President and CEO Mike Duke also points the company's 65 percent improvement in fleet efficiency in the United States, as well as the energy efficiencies delivered by LED lighting systems, thin-film solar and hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts.

Without being a downer, it is also worth looking at where Walmart has missed its targets: because if a company this big and focused on sustainability can't manage to achieve something, you should take that into account when setting your own goals.

  • Walmart hasn't managed to achieve its goal of being able to trace all the diamonds, gold and silver in jewelry sold in Walmart U.S. to ensure that they have been sourced according to ethical and responsible mining criteria
  • Walmart hasn't eliminated PVC from its private brand packaging, which it was supposed to do by 2007. The company writes in its report: "While we work to identify and implement other materials with equal performance characteristics, we will continue to use PVC in certain items to ensure safety and package performance for our customers."
  • Walmart can't say that every air conditioner sold in its U.S. stores is Energy Star-rated. Right now, six of the eight models that it carries has the Energy Star label. In particular, it was unable to do this for the 5,000 BTU air-conditioning models. The problem was being able to do this is at a price Walmart customers would be willing to justify over time.

In case you need a level set as you skim the report, here are Walmart's three overarching goals in the area of corporate sustainability:

  1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy
  2. To create zero waste
  3. To sell products that sustain people and the environment

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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