Amidst the noise in the run-up to the election, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon will map out the company’s sustainability goals for the year 2025 later today. As a keynote speaker at this year’s Net Impact Conference, he'll be delivering a fairly lengthy, aspiration list; here are a few highlights of what the world’s largest retailer has planned:
- 50% renewable Energy
- 18% absolute emissions reduction Scopes 1+2
- 1 Gigaton emissions reduction Scope 3
- Zero waste to landfill by 2025
- Zero net deforestation in key commodities
- 100% recyclable packaging in private brands
As a director of the NGO that has worked closely* with Walmart on their sustainability journey over the last ten years, here are my initial, big takeaways:
Walmart can’t accomplish such ambitious goals alone. Which is good.
Getting to 50% renewables, reducing absolute emissions from their stores and trucks, and removing a gigaton of GHG emissions from their supply chain are exactly the kinds of leadership goals Walmart should be putting forth to help meet the challenge of climate change.
But, actually delivering on these goals will be no joke. Luckily, our 25 years of working with companies has consistently revealed two, important guideposts:
- specific, ambitious goals are vital for driving innovation and progress;
- achieving real, science-based results truly takes a village of collaborators.
To give just one example, three years ago Walmart set a policy to eliminate eight of the most prevalent and concerning chemicals in their home and personal care products. With no clear path forward, Walmart engaged thousands of suppliers, requiring them to submit full product formulations to a 3rd-party database, then replace those eight ingredients with safer substitutes.
The result? A 95% reduction in chemicals of concern, adding up to 23 million pounds. This affects 90,000 products that are sold everywhere, not just on the shelves at Walmart. At the same time, this work also helped to set the stage for this year’s passage of The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, the first piece of environmental legislation in a generation aimed at fixing our broken system of regulating toxic chemicals.
By aiming big and bringing on strategic partners, Walmart was able to go further, faster than they’d ever dreamed. The same holds true now.
Corporate sustainability is officially a trend.
Walmart’s announcement is just the latest in a string of other companies—PepsiCo, Kellogg, General Mills—who have also put forth ambitious sustainability goals. What this tells us is that companies are proving, over and over again, that this is not about “doing the right thing,” it’s about doing what creates business value and environmental progress.
As if to prove this point, last month Doug McMillon talked publicly about how sustainability is a core part of their business strategy during an investor call. In this first-time-event-for-a-Walmart-CEO, he emphasized to Wall Street that one of the four ways that Walmart will win in the 21st century: lead on sustainability by being “the most trusted retailer” and call out progress on making products like shampoo and lotion safer, healthier and better for the planet**, increasing renewables and reducing waste.
Sustainability is finally being seen for what it is: a smart business strategy. In a world of decreasing resources and consumers that want better products, there’s no other path forward in the long term. And, looking around at what’s happening, the long term is here!
The election is finally (almost) over. Now let’s get back to work.
This election has shown that people want change. It’s been scary and unsettling but it’s a challenge we can’t shrink from. We have healing to do as a country, which can only begin if we engage with each other. Climate change and its effects are going to get worse before they get better. Just look at this summer’s fires in California, the hurricane in Haiti, the floods in Louisiana and North Carolina…
I know there’s another path forward.
Having worked with companies over the last 25 years doing what many thought was impossible, I have hope. These corporate leaders aren’t waiting for regulation to force them to act, but are choosing to consciously, aggressively become more sustainable. And, I’m inspired by companies doing the hard work to think beyond their corporate walls and take ownership for the impact of the products they make and sell in the world.
The scary truth is, business won’t know exactly how to achieve the aspirational goals we need for our planet and for long-term business viability mean that. That forces an openness to innovation and requires bringing suppliers and customers in as partners to achieve those goals.
So congratulations, Walmart, on setting aggressive yet achievable goals for 2025—and doing what the science tells us needs to get done for a stable and healthy planet. You have a proven track record of meeting and exceeding big sustainability goals. We expect the same here.
* EDF takes no money from our corporate partners—we are funded solely through grants, donations and membership. We like to say we get paid in environmental results.
** I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that while Walmart is committing to healthy products in their 2025 goals, we are disappointed to not see further goals on the path to becoming a “toxic free” store.