Walmart: What’s Next for Project Gigaton

Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

What can happen when the CEO of the world’s largest retailer says publicly that making the world better is more important than sales? The answer: a gigaton.

I was able to attend Walmart’s annual Sustainability Milestone Summit for the first time last month in Arkansas, and as EDF+Business’ new lead on climate change and energy issues in the supply chain, I have to say it was an incredible experience. At work was a tangible display of EDF+Business’ supply chain theory of change – that some companies have the power to move markets, and if they choose to, can use that power to accelerate progress on climate change.

Graziella Siciliano, Sr. Manager, Carbon and Energy at Environmental Defense Fund

This year Walmart used the Milestone Summit to report on its progress toward Project Gigaton, which is a goal we helped Walmart set a year ago to reduce 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from its supply chain by 2030. Since the launch of Project Gigaton in 2016, Walmart has encouraged 400 suppliers with operations in more than 30 countries to join the program and take action. And at the event this year, it was shared that suppliers have reported avoided emissions of more than 20 million metric tons.

As further testament to Walmart’s convening power, CEOs from some of the world’s favorite brands, such as L'Oreal, Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s, joined Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon and NGO leaders including EDF’s Fred Krupp to discuss challenges and opportunities of sustainability initiatives. I’ve never seen so many CEOs and NGOs in the same room talking about sustainability, which to me demonstrated a compelling signal that there is buy-in for environmental change at the top, as companies continue to realize that bettering the environment and business goals are crucial to each other's success.

Of course, in celebrating wins and highlighting new commitments, the point that much work remains to be done was not lost on the attendees.

As we saw from the onslaught of extreme weather events in 2017, absolutely no business is immune to the risks associated with the devastating effects of climate change. Aggressive action to improve environmental sustainability is no longer optional – the bottom line depends on it. It is going to take a village to accomplish Project Gigaton, but here are a few thoughts on opportunities I see to boost outcomes heading into year two of Project Gigaton:

  • Suppliers setting targets based in science. For companies looking to make robust sustainability commitments, EDF and organizations like the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi) encourage companies to develop a detailed inventory of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and set a “science-based” target in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Robust measurement of progress. EDF is a firm believer that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. A critical complement to a strong, target based in science is a credible process to ensure real emissions reductions are being made. NGOs like ours are committed to helping companies find robust ways to measure progress. For instance, we recommend the use of internationally accepted best practice standards for measuring emissions reductions, such as Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
  • Honest discussions around challenges and opportunities. EDF’s president, Fred Krupp attended the CEO listening session at Milestone Summit and said that discussions like these are key to moving the needle on environmental goals. Fred remembers his early conversations with Walmart’s then-CEO, Lee Scott and how honest and transparent conversations on both sides eventually led to unlikely but impactful partnerships. We also need businesses to keep sharing sustainability successes and lessons learned with each other. Findings from a study EDF released last week of more than 500 U.S. executives found that 77 percent of respondents think that sharing data – especially when it comes to using new technologies – with outside parties will lead to better outcomes for businesses.
  • Creating partnerships for action. With great market power, comes great opportunities to partner with suppliers and other companies to drive sustainable efforts. At the summit, Walmart shared how it worked with Johnson & Johnson to make a deal with Georgia Power in April of this year to procure nearly 90 megawatts (MW) of new solar power. Two other companies, Google and Target, were also part of the arrangement and procured a total of 177 MW of solar power. Supportive programs and collaborations such as these will go a long way to create the productive relationships required to together meet Project Gigaton goals.

As the largest retailer in the world, with more than 11,000 stores, Walmart’s scale and opportunity for good is enormous. And to Walmart’s credit, there has never been a sustainable supply chain effort on the scale of Project Gigaton.

When wrapping up this year’s Milestone Summit, Walmart’s Doug McMillon said, “It’s encouraging that we’ve made so much progress and at the same time it’s clear that we’ve got to keep this thing going.” I agree with him 100 percent.

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