EDF and Walmart: Changing the Retail Industry to Protect People and the Planet

Today, Walmart broadcast its Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting across the Web, giving audiences everywhere a peek into its journey to achieve its goal of selling “products that sustain people and the environment.”

Why wouldn’t a retailer sell products that sustain its customers (so they can continue shopping there) and its resources (so it can continue operating)?  In a perfect world, all companies would operate like this. That’s not the case though.

Aspirational goals like this are hard for any company, much less the world’s largest retailer.  Environmental Defense Fund has spent 25 years proving that good environmental strategy and profitability go hand in hand.

For Walmart—with up to half a million products in every store from more than 100,000 suppliers—product sustainability is a massive undertaking.

My colleagues and I have spent seven years on the ground with Walmart, driving sustainability initiatives from within. We even opened an office down the street from Walmart’s Headquarters in Arkansas.

As we commend Walmart on today’s Milestone announcements. What’s most exciting is the proof we are chipping away at this behemoth goal together and impacting the retail industry as a whole.

At today’s meeting, Walmart highlighted its progress on product sustainability and credited the newly launched Sustainability Index for delivering results.

We recently published a blog post reiterating the power of The Sustainability Index “to move entire industries to go beyond what is required by law, benefiting consumers, workers and the planet.”  Today, Walmart showed how The Sustainability Index is doing just that, especially in regards to the work we’ve done together on chemicals in consumer products and fertilizer use in agriculture.

Offering products to customers with safer chemicals

Walmart announced a new policy today that promises to bring safer, healthier products to the 80 percent of Americans that shop there. The policy focuses on chemical ingredients in consumables –household cleaners, personal care products and cosmetics. Walmart is calling for expanded ingredient disclosure, targeting about ten key chemicals of concern for substitution with better ingredients and looking to take its private brand products through a rigorous screening process.

EDF pushed hard for this policy, which sets a new standard for the retail industry and sends a strong signal to suppliers that it’s time to get serious about phasing out hazardous chemicals in products. Just last week, P&G announced that it has already begun doing this.

The potential impact of this commitment to get hazardous chemicals off the shelves of American stores is monumental, and American consumers will be safer for it.

Helping to optimize fertilizer use in agriculture

Groceries account for half of Walmart’s US sales. It’s no wonder that agriculture presents massive opportunity for the company to advance sustainability. In fact, fertilizer use is responsible for nearly half of Walmart’s carbon footprint in its supply chain. That’s why EDF has spent years working with farmers to optimize fertilizer use on farms, saving the farmer money and reducing environmental impacts. And it’s working! Walmart announced commitments from 15 suppliers to encourage better fertilizer use in their supply chain.  These changes will touch more than 30 percent of food and beverage sales in North America. That’s huge.

We can all celebrate the seven million metric tons of greenhouse gases that can be avoided by the agriculture initiatives discussed today, in addition to improving waterways and soil health.

The entire retail industry has a long way to go to truly sustainable products. Walmart has been steadily moving forward on this journey, and today’s announcements exemplify its leadership. EDF will continue to push these initiatives forward and track progress along the way.

Whether you shop at Walmart or not, these changes are bound to impact your shopping cart and improve the products in your family’s home.