How helping a multi-billion dollar company (aka Walmart) is like raising a child

When it comes to Walmart meeting its greenhouse gas goal, parenting and sustainability have more in common than you think.

Notes from the Nursery/Eco-Business Nexus

I’m proud to say that Walmart just announced that they’ve not only hit but surpassed a goal that was, at the time, considered nothing short of audacious: to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 20 million metric tons (MMT) in just six years.

So why am I proud? Two reasons.

First, I’ve worked alongside them every step of the way. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been Walmart’s lead partner throughout this process, and as a Supply Chain specialist for EDF, I know first-hand the massive amount of research, measurement, innovation, collaboration and communication that has gone into bringing this goal across the finish line.

Second, I’m a brand new mother – and as I stare down into my 5-month-old daughter Helen’s eyes, there’s nothing I care more about than ensuring she grows up in a world that is on course to thrive—both economically and environmentally.  Walmart’s achievement gives me hope for both.Helen and Jenny

So, yes, I’m proud. Because while it may seem that my two unique perspectives—one from the nursery, one from inside the halls of the world’s largest retailer—are worlds apart, they actually have a lot in common.

In truth, helping a multi-billion dollar corporation reach a major sustainability goal is a lot like raising a child.  So for other companies who want to follow Walmart’s lead, I offer the same advice that I will one day give to Helen:

  1. Set Your Sights High – Lofty goals drive big innovation. When the 20 MMT goal was announced, it was uncharted territory – no one had ever pledged to remove the GHG equivalent of 4 million cars from their supply chain before! Neither Walmart nor EDF knew the clear path forward, but the sheer scale of the goal made us rise to the challenge. And after some unsuccessful attempts, we were finally able to prioritize the most important areas of GHG impact for Walmart—which enabled us to develop strategies to change those systems. This resulted in not just meeting the goal, but setting long-term change into motion.
  1. It Takes a Village – Collaboration is key. Don’t just “be open” to help; actively search it out. Certainly the partnership with an NGO like EDF was critical for success; we provide them with expertise, encouragement and course correction through all the ups and downs of the process. But beyond that, the EDF and Walmart teams quickly realized that the only way to change systems to achieve huge greenhouse gas reductions was by engaging their 100,000 suppliers and other key supply chain stakeholders. It also meant being creative, as is exemplified by the “chicken-and-egg issue” we faced with recycled plastic. Many places don’t offer recycling because there’s no market for the material. At the same time companies want to use more recycled content but can’t get their hands on it.  The solution?  The Closed Loop Fund, where donations from Walmart, suppliers, and others started a revolving loan fund to help develop much-needed recycling infrastructure.
  1. The Future is Bright – Success breeds success. Getting started can be difficult, but once you’ve got momentum, great things can happen. One of the “hotspot” areas of GHG reductions we targeted was nitrogen fertilizer used on corn—while vital to keep yields high and prices low, too much nitrogen results in massive GHG emissions and water pollution from runoff.

We set out to improve farmers’ access to tools and information that help them optimize their fertilizer consumption and crop yields.  It has taken a few years for farmers to explore interventions and really start to put the work into practice—and it will take even more time to have this spread throughout the farmer community.  But as more and more farmers embrace new methods and technology, they quickly see the benefits. Accelerated uptake will in turn mean a dramatic accumulation of GHG and water savings.

I actually could go on and on, as the parallels are seemingly endless. But best to conclude with some parental words of advice:

To my daughter: never stop growing, changing, evolving.

To Walmart and the global business community: moms are the CFO of the household. We make 85% of all consumer purchases, and we care—deeply—about the health of our children and the world they will both inhabit and inherit. Both the environment and economy can thrive, but not without your leadership.

Job well done, Walmart! Take a moment to reflect and celebrate… then get back to work. Our children’s future depends on it.

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