Where is Walmart on the 'Hype Cycle'?

Michelle Mauthe Harvey co-leads Environmental Defense Fund's on-site partnership with Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas, advancing sustainable business practices throughout its operations and supply chain.

Is Walmart more hype than reality? Having worked with Walmart since 2005, my colleagues and I at Environmental Defense Fund are often asking that question, stepping back from our day-to-day work to assess the reality of the world we encounter in Bentonville.

One way to view that question is through something called the Gartner Hype Cycle, a predictable cycle of public expectation and disappointment that accompanies many new ideas.  “Since virtually all innovations require time and experience to realize their real potential, it’s almost inevitable that reports of early experiences will disappoint us,” write Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino in their 2008 book, Mastering the Hype Cycle. “Once the excitement starts to wane even slightly, the same…factors that drove the excitement upward now begin to drive it right back down again.”

So, is Walmart on an upward or downward trajectory? Is it moving towards a “trough of disillusionment,” or is it on a path to “enlightenment”?

Since Walmart began its sustainability quest in 2005, its quest has always been a robust, reliable and transparent system allowing for honest, apples-to-apples assessment of product footprints, from raw material to final disposal and all points in between.

That system needs to accurately measure, track and verify sustainability attributes from embedded energy to component toxicity and apply to hundreds of thousands of products from sources across the globe.

Walmart’s answer was the Sustainability Index, announced in 2009.

Buzz was intense, anticipation high. Then, after two years, when everything wasn’t done, when the sustainability scores of every product weren’t known and being shared with customers, the buzz turned sour and disparaging comments piled up.

Walmart bears some responsibility for questions on its commitment and progress.   It appeared at times that they were backing away from sustainability.  Projects started and stopped. Sustainability messaging got softer, and sometimes seemed to disappear. Walmart moved slower than we knew they could.

Some people asked why EDF was still working with Walmart. Our answer:  What we are trying to do is hard, and none of us has yet figured it out. Despite best intentions, balls sometimes drop. The quick wins up front create expectations for smooth sailing, when in fact the tough challenges are still ahead.

Most importantly, Walmart is moving forward. In January, for example, Walmart quietly launched the Index Sustainable Value Network (iSVN), led by executives from across Walmart’s merchandising divisions in the US, Sam’s Club and International.

Primarily an internal stakeholder network, the iSVN is focused on bringing the ambitious goals of the Sustainability Index to fruition:  lower costs and higher quality; a more resilient supply chain; spreading innovative best practices; leadership on transparency.

At the heart of current efforts is Walmart’s new product category scorecard. It combines information on each supplier’s practices with product information based on environmental and social analyses by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). Working with EDF and others, Walmart spent much of 2011 pilot testing category assessments in major product segments including milk, detergent, fresh produce, cereal, electronics and textiles.

For 2012, Walmart is set to integrate the scorecards into merchandising for more than 100 categories. Buyers will get prioritized, actionable sustainability information that allows them to review suppliers and identify laggards and leaders.

Improvements in sustainability will tie directly to incentives for buyers and suppliers, which has been a critical goal for EDF. The roll-out will continue for several years to cover all major categories in Walmart’s business.

Walmart won’t be alone; Best Buy and U.K. retailing giant Tesco are among those who also will start rolling out to their suppliers unified sustainability questionnaires based on TSC’s work.

A lot of groundwork was quietly laid in 2011.  We anticipate the ongoing results of that work will be revealed at Walmart's April 18 Milestone Meeting where key executives will talk in more detail about these projects.

As always, good intentions do not equal results. But Walmart is listening to its partners, learning from both its successes and failures, and finally telling suppliers to pay attention to sustainability again.

From EDF’s close perspective, it is clear Walmart is still working hard on sustainability. When Walmart hit the Trough of Disillusionment, they kept slogging through it. In our view, the Slope of Enlightenment described by Gartner consultants Fenn and Raskino now appears a little closer.

This content is cross-posted on Greenbiz.com

Sustainability Boosts Returns for Private Equity Funds: Part III

By Andrew Malk, Founder and Managing Partner of Malk Sustainability Partners (MSP)

Part III: The Fine Print of ESG Underwriting

In the second installment of this series, we highlighted how private equity fund managers can drive value creation across their portfolios by integrating efficient resource management expertise into operational teams and broader corporate strategy, as well as by bringing in experts in resource saving practices where appropriate. Major funds have found that doing so is an effective tactic to identify substantial cost savings while also producing broader strategic benefits. Today, we move upstream in the investment cycle to the acquisition phase to examine how private equity general partners (GPs) can benefit from enhanced consideration of environmental social and governance (ESG) factors during the due diligence process.

For prudent investment managers, robust due diligence is fundamental; in considering acquisition of a company or asset, due diligence is a chance to ‘test drive’ the investment and look for risks or opportunities which might affect value in the future.  GPs are accustomed to looking closely at a wide range of issues during due diligence, from company financials and quality of earnings to operational issues and corporate governance.

Private equity due diligence has traditionally incorporated basic environmental, health, and safety diligence, including compliance with local law and – where relevant – the development of environmental impact studies.  However, GPs are increasingly expanding their focus on ESG issues such as resource efficiency, mitigation of long term environmental risks, working conditions, and good corporate governance practices.

There are multiple drivers behind this increasing focus on ESG in the diligence process. Prominent among these is the expectations of important stakeholders including the large institutional investors such as pension funds, university endowments, and development finance institutions which invest in GPs. These organizations, which are expected to generate stable returns over long periods of time, see ESG issues such as resource efficiency and the social license to operate as integral to the long term success of their assets. As a result, they have begun to place higher expectations on GPs.

Click here to read the full article on Environmental Leader.

Harvard Business Students Debate KKR and Sustainability

Thirty-five years ago, Milton Friedman wrote a famous article for The New York Times Magazine whose title aptly summed up its main point: "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." Never mind that most companies don't pay the full price for the pollution they create, or the health and environmental impacts that ensue. For years, Friedman's theories held young business students in thrall across the country, but last week at Harvard Business School, I saw a totally different ethos.

I listened in as Harvard Business School professor Bob Eccles presented a new case study called KKR: Leveraging Sustainability (co written with Prof. George Serafeim and Tiffany Clay). The case centered on Kohlberg Kravis Roberts' Green Portfolio Program, which improves environmental performance across the firm's private equity portfolio of companies, and asked students to consider whether and how to expand it.

The discussion was eye-opening. The debate focused not on whether to expand the program, but on how to make it more meaningful and why KKR hadn't moved sooner. Since its inception in 2008, companies participating in the Green Portfolio Program achieved more than $365 million in financial benefits and avoided 810,000 metric tons of GHG emissions, 2.2 million tons of waste, and 300 million liters of water. Faced with these kinds of savings, one student commented that it was like the companies had been walking around with eye patches on (preventing them from seeing opportunities at hand) and had finally taken them off.

Continue reading on Huffington Post.

VERGE: Converging Energy, Information, Buildings and Transportation

By Isabel Grantham, Project Analyst, EDF Corporate Partnerships

EDF Climate Corps’s Managing Director Victoria Mills and I attended the VERGE GreenBiz.com conference last week in DC. Furthering energy efficiency in commercial buildings is one of the primary goals of EDF Climate Corps, so we are always interested in learning about innovative ideas in this space as well as meeting professionals and companies involved in developing the mechanisms to transform energy management.

We were pleased with the crowd at VERGE, and the conference panels reflected the critical areas where these topics converge. Victoria spoke on a Keynote Panel titled Revolutionizing the Built Environment, moderated by Lane Burt Director, Technical Policy, US Green Building Council.

Other members of the panel included:

  • Cindy Ortega Senior Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, MGM Resorts International;
  • Duke Reiter Senior Vice President & Managing Director, ASU Foundation for A New American University; and
  • Lisa Shpritz Senior Vice President, Bank of America.

Panelists spoke of key programs and initiatives in the academic, corporate and public sectors that are transforming the way we manage our built environment. A breakout session on Global Corporate Energy Management featured John Schinter, Director of Energy at AT&T, who gave key insights into AT&T’s impressive and comprehensive method for energy management as well as a glowing review of EDF Climate Corps. This year marks AT&T’s third year participating in the program.

I was particularly interested in the cutting-edge systems to handle energy data from buildings and transportation. By utilizing the accessibility of the internet, many new platforms have been developed that not only capture and organize huge amounts of data on energy usage, but truly help to engage people in understanding the data and acting on that  knowledge. From brand new iPhone apps to complex data dashboards, companies presented innovative tools used to measure, monitor and manage energy data, which can often be a boring and overwhelming barrier to tackling building efficiency.

The conference was a true convergence of ideas and of the EDF Climate Corps network. It was exciting to see many EDF Climate Corps companies collaboratively sponsoring and participating in one event.  Notables include Eaton, PricewaterhouseCoopers, AutoDesk, AT&T, CA Technologies and FedEx. We also ran into 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow alum Rich Grousset and future fellow Deepak Jose of the 2012 class, who will be uncovering energy efficiency opportunities at Ingersoll Rand this summer! I am looking forward to continuing these conversations and expecting more innovations from 2012 companies.

See a full list of our EDF Climate Corps participants.

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Putting Mother Jones Walmart Article in Perspective

In an article posted online this week, Mother Jones magazine makes a sweeping critique of Walmart’s efforts to reduce the environmental impacts created by its Chinese supply chain. Having been closely involved with Walmart on these and other sustainability initiatives since 2005, we’d like to offer EDF’s perspective on the story, and on what’s at stake in terms of both risk and opportunity.

The sheer scale of Walmart’s business – not to mention its influence on broader markets – means even small improvements in energy and water use, emissions and other metrics translate into major environmental benefits. And big steps can change the game entirely. All of that is doubly true when we are talking about its massive footprint in China’s industrial base.

A big part of learning how to make change work is learning what doesn’t work. There are fits and starts in any major initiative, and we would be worried if we weren’t hitting a few dead ends, because that would mean we aren’t being creative or ambitious enough in our thinking.

For example, it is true that some of the energy efficiency projects with Walmart suppliers discussed in the article did not pan out as we had initially hoped. We also believe that Walmart made some missteps like not dedicating consistent resources to the effort, and moving slowly to adopt robust accounting and auditing procedures.

Nevertheless, we continue to believe strongly that Walmart is serious about its sustainability agenda. And for EDF, working with Walmart remains a huge leverage point for making change throughout the global economy.

Yes, Walmart can do more — and more they ultimately must do if they are going to succeed. And sure, there have been many times we wanted it all to move faster.  But none of that changes the impact that the company’s engagement on sustainability issues has had and could continue to have.

Even in China, where it has been a bumpy road, EDF has taken lessons from Walmart’s experience and used it to launch a new program aimed at aggregating and financing energy efficiency upgrades across a range of factories in the retail supply chain.

We think the story of Walmart’s sustainability work will evolve further this year, as the company’s two-year investment in product lifecycle analyses and carbon reporting tools start playing an increasingly important role in supplier relationships and product design.

None of this is simple or easy. Integrating sustainability in an enterprise like Walmart is a multi-pronged, multi-year effort stretching well beyond its own four walls. And because the going can be hard, it is great to know that the media are watching and helping to keep Walmart and other companies that are at the forefront on their toes.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) does not accept payment or donations from Walmart or any of our other corporate partners. See our corporate donation policy.

Five Rules for a More Carbon-Efficient Freight Supply Chain

Fuel prices are back on the rise and companies are taking stock of opportunities to reduce costs and exposure to oil price spikes. The future trends in freight growth also call attention to the need to dramatically improve the efficiency of the current freight system.

From 2010 to 2040, global demand for energy to power freight movement is expected to increase by over 70%, according to Exxon. Freight movement already accounts for nearly three billion metric tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions each year. That’s equal to over 700 coal plants or the combined total global warming pollution from Japan, Germany, Canada and Mexico. Clearly, such growth in conventional energy demand is not sustainable.

Corporate action will ultimately determine the path forward for freight. By taking steps today to dramatically increase the carbon-efficiency of their logistics, companies can put freight on a path towards a more sustainable future. In essence, they can buy time for the technology developments and new policies that ultimately are needed.

A new report from Environmental Defense Fund, Smart Moves, documents a range of options companies can use today to reduce freight spend and associated emissions. In the report, we highlight over two dozen case examples of companies that have cut costs while increasing freight carbon-efficiency. From these stories, we’ve create five rules for a more carbon-efficiency freight supply chain. These are:

  1. Choose the most carbon-efficient mode possible.  When it comes to carbon emissions per ton-mile, planes emit 47 times more than container ships and trucks emit six times more than trains.  Clearly differentiating cargo that needs to be expedited from that which doesn’t is step one; other options include vendor-managed inventory and even moving final assembly closer to the client.
  2. Collaborate with other shippers.  Are there opportunities to merge your warehouses and distribution assets with other companies?  Ship products directly to the client and avoid warehousing altogether?  Match “back-haul” lanes with other shippers to improve efficiency?  All of these strategies are being used successfully.
  3. Redesign your own network for efficiency.  New logistics tools can help to optimize warehouse locations, shipping routes and modal connections.
  4. Get the most out of each move.  Set goals for trailer utilization, look for new ways to combine loads and use the best new software to optimize orders.  Redesigning and consolidating packaging can also increase utilization while decreasing damage.
  5. Increase energy efficiency in distribution centers.  These vital links account for 11 percent of the carbon footprint of goods movement. Changes to HVAC, lighting, motor controls and refrigeration can be quick payback ways to save energy and emissions.

Companies exercise significant control over the environmental footprint of logistics operations. Their decisions on where products are made and stored, how they are designed and packaged, and how much time is allotted for transit have a tremendous impact on carbon and cost efficiency. What smart moves is your company making?

Financing Energy Efficiency Upgrades In Commercial Properties

By Brad Copithorne

An Update

Last September, I wrote about some of the barriers that commercial building owners face when they want to finance energy efficiency upgrades for their properties. The post also discussed an innovative new strategy called an Energy Services Agreement (ESA) that removes several of these barriers. Since that time, several of the companies mentioned in that post have continued to innovate and make great progress. I thought it would be useful to provide an update on some of their key accomplishments.

Transcend Equity

Yesterday, Transcend Equity (Transcend) announced that they are being acquired by SCIenergy, a leading energy management solutions company. This acquisition should provide Transcend with access to additional technology, customers, capital and marketing resources. EDF is excited to see what the combined company can accomplish.

Transcend recently made a commitment to fund $100 million of energy efficiency (EE) projects as part of the Better Buildings Challenge and broke ground on an ESA transaction in New York City. Transcend is partnered with Mitsui to provide equity capital for their projects.

Abundant Power

Abundant Power is a diversified EE finance firm that works on a variety of products including Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), On-Bill Finance and revolving loan funds in addition to the ESA structure. Recently, they have helped Alabama establish a $60 million revolving loan fund and Washington, DC establish a commercial PACE program that could finance up to $250 million of EE upgrades. Abundant Power has also committed $100 million of financing as part of the Better Buildings Challenge.

Green Campus Partners

Green Campus Partners (GCP) has arranged over $350 million in EE financings for public sector properties and completed two ESA transactions in 2011 for private universities. GCP committed to Better Buildings Challenge $100 million of EE financings in 2011 and another $200 million in 2012. The firm exceeded its target in 2011 and expects to do the same in 2012.

GCP has also worked with EDF on the Clean Heat NYC campaign and recently signed a major development agreement with St. Barnabas Hospital to finance their conversion away from dirty heating oil.

Groom Energy

Groom is a Boston based EE project developer that offers ESA-style financings for customers. To date they have been most active in the commercial and industrial space. Groom is also a thought leader in the Enterprise Smart Grid which uses advanced technology to monitor and reduce energy usage behind the meter. This morning, Groom published a comprehensive report on the topic.

Metrus Energy

Metrus Energy (Metrus) has had a very productive start to 2012 including a recent high-profile ESA project selection and a pipeline of advanced stage projects that totals $50 million. Metrus has broadened the geographic diversity of its pipeline which now spreads across the commercial, industrial and institutional markets, with active projects under development in the financial institutions, media and entertainment, telecommunications, hospital, higher education and non-profit sectors. Metrus is on-pace to exceed its $75 million investment commitment under the Better Buildings Challenge program. On the project implementation front, Metrus is actively advancing its existing ESA program with BAE systems with the addition of several multi-million dollar projects at new BAE sites. BAE Systems is a global company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defense, security and aerospace systems. Metrus has also expanded its base of Energy Services Companies (ESCOs), contractors and energy utility channels by adding 25 new partners.

Carbon Lighthouse

Since launch in 2010, Carbon Lighthouse (CL) has completed projects at 70+ office towers, schools, community centers and industrial facilities in California and Oregon. CL achieves its mission by combining energy efficiency, retro-commissioning, demand response, solar and competition for pollution permits into one simple package for customers. CL primarily provides projects on a deferred compensation basis similar to an ESA, and can also provide customers with third party direct ESAs or utility On-Bill Finance and Repayment programs.

Conclusion

EDF has worked with each of these five firms and we are encouraged by their energy, focus and innovation. Each firm has a somewhat different business strategy and mix of products, but the EE market should be large enough to support a variety of business models. We look forward to continuing to work with these firms and others as this critical market grows in the coming years.

This content is cross-posted on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Treasure Hunts: Engaging employees equals successful energy reduction and big savings

Employee engagement is becoming a hot topic around the corporate water cooler.  Increasingly, CSR managers are seeing it as a way to not only have happier employees, but also to drive business value.

At the same time, many companies are not fully taking advantage of energy efficiency, despite all the opportunities it can offer for saving money and lowering a company’s environmental footprint.

One proven model, Treasure Hunts, provides a high-impact way to engage employees and reduce energy use — at the same time.  First developed by Toyota, Treasure Hunts are dynamic, hands-on events that resemble a cross between an energy audit and a scavenger hunt.

Spanning somewhere between one and three days, depending on the size and complexity of the facility, each Hunt involves cross-functional teams of employees who work together to identify and quantify savings opportunities for lighting, HVAC, equipment and more – wherever energy is used.  Commonly associated with manufacturing, Treasure Hunts have been tested in office spaces and many other types of buildings.

EDF has now taken the Treasure Hunt model and is working with labor unions to build stronger, more sustainable workplaces by tapping the unique expertise of union members and help uncover energy and environmental savings that strengthen the bottom line and improve the competitiveness of participating companies. Learn more about our work with labor unions.

Resources for doing Treasure Hunts

The art of developing and facilitating Treasure Hunts is usually learned by shadowing an experienced Treasure Hunt leader.

GE has now published a Treasure Hunt Checklist, which outlines its process for setting up and facilitating the events, to help other interested companies. GE has performed over 200 internal Treasure Hunts across its businesses with $150 million in savings opportunities identified.

Also, GreenBiz.com recently published “How to Conduct a Treasure Hunt,” which offers additional tips and best practices.

Build energy efficiency into corporate culture

Successful Treasure Hunts involve employees from throughout the company:  From maintenance and facilities to engineering and marketing to the CFO’s office.  Doing so not only brings in fresh ideas and increases employee awareness about energy efficiency, but also generates immediate employee buy-in.  Simply put, employees who are given the opportunity to present their ideas to management at the end of the Treasure Hunt are going to care very much if those ideas are implemented.

Ultimately, a Treasure Hunt can be the beginning of a new employee culture where everyone feels ownership over energy use.

How to use Air Freight? Sparingly

The most impactful sustainability decision made by logisticians is the choice of transportation mode to move their freight. Planes emit 47 times more carbon per ton mile than container ships; trucks emit six times more carbon per ton mile than trains.

The more carbon intensive modes typically cost more as well. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal mentioned that air freight cost five to six times more than ocean freight. So why do companies utilize air freight?  Well, as the article also points out, the use decision is all about inventory trade-offs.

Longer supply chains and slower, more carbon-efficient transportation modes require higher levels of inventory in the system. As it can take nearly a month to get goods to the U.S. from Asia, companies need to have more than a month’s worth of inventory in their distribution system. This leads to two main problems:  holding this inventory costs money and there is a risk that it won’t all be sold.

Many companies are making great strides for sustainability and their bottom line by finding ways to make ocean freight fit within their supply chain. In Smart Moves, Environmental Defense Fund highlighted several of these companies. They include:

Nike, which since 2003 has been using air freight more carefully and sending an increasing amount of its cargo by ocean freight. As a result, it saved over $8 million in 2009 alone while also reducing its emissions per product moved by four percent reduction with these changes. On an absolute basis, it was able to limit growth in its carbon emissions from inbound logistics to 14 percent while increasing revenues by 70 percent.

HP also found savings in switching from air freight to ocean freight while still meeting time and inventory carrying cost pressures. The company changed most shipments of its Visual Collaboration studio – a TelePresence conferencing system – to ocean freight. This resulted in a savings of $7,000 and nearly 900 tons of carbon per shipment.

Michael Kors utilized an innovative ocean freight service that matched loads into full containers and quickly transferred the goods from ship to truck once in port. As a result, the company was able to reduce the transit time 30 percent and cut freight costs by $20 per bag.

D.W. Morgan, a transportation and logistics provider, partnered with a client to reduce inventory on the client’s books, which enabled its freight to flow via ships. D. W. Morgan picked up product at the manufacturing facility in Asia and then took title to the shipment. It also arranged for transportation to its U.S. facilities. The client arranged for delivery, only as needed, from D. W. Morgan’s U.S. fulfillment center. By doing so, the client did not take ownership of the product until it was delivered to its door.

Abercrombie & Fitch, as described by the Wall-Street Journal, also has had significant success in reducing its use of air freight. Since 2008, the company has reduced “the percentage of its inventory flown into the U.S. to 12%, from 60%”

Clearly it is possible for many companies to significantly cut their use of air freight.

For me, the key take away from the WSJ article, was the target role for air freight at Abercrombie & Fitch going forward. The company’s Senior Vice President of Supply Chain stated that its aim was to keep air freight “between 10% and 20% of products.”

This target recognizes that, given the length of supply chains and the nature of many industries, air freight has a role. Obviously from the sustainability perspective, the more limited the role of air freight the better. It can enable companies to quickly introduce trendy products and to expedite replenish stock hot-selling goods. It probably shouldn’t be the primary transportation choice, though.

Like the items on the top of the food pyramid, air freight is best when used sparingly.

Where You’ll Find Us in March

We are marching straight into spring with exciting conferences. Here is where you can find us in March:

Victoria Mills is speaking at Greenbiz’s VERGE conference in Washington, DC on March 14-16. Joining her at this event are Isabel Grantham and Jasper Jung.

Lee Coker is speaking at the Financial Times: Investing in a Sustainable Future conference on March 29 in New York.

Scott Wood and Jocelyn Climent are attending the 6th Annual Babson Energy & Environment Conference on March 30 in Babson Park, MA.

Look for us at these conferences – and let us know if you’ll be there so we can watch for you as well!

You can always see where we’re going to be – and what other conferences we know about– on the EDF Biz Calendar

Subscribe to receive our blog updates by email, like our page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.