Walmart’s 2025 Sustainability Goals: My Three Takeaways

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:ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377

  • 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.

 

Sustainable Supply Chains: No More Excuses

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377A question for forward-thinking business executives: if you could do something that would directly reduce more than 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of water usage, and two-thirds of tropical forest loss globally… wouldn’t you do it?

The answer: yes, of course you would!  That’s why you’re forward-thinking!

That’s also why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been working in supply chains (for years) to improve the impacts of the global production and use of consumer goods.

Those impacts are huge. Really getting at them, unfortunately, has not been so easy. The excuse that we’ve heard over and over again boils down to “you can’t manage what you can’t see.”  Basically, while most companies’ impacts are in their supply chain, most businesses have very little knowledge of how those supply chains actually function.  And, the further up in the chains you go, the less visibility there is.

EDF has a lot of first-hand experience with this: after years of on-the-ground work with farmers, our Ecosystems team knows precisely how difficult it is to capture impacts at the farm level.  Despite the on-farm benefits of optimizing fertilizer use in cost savings, reduced greenhouse gases and increased water quality, fewer than 20 % of companies collect this data.

TSC2011lgHow do I know that statistic? Because The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has just released Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blind Spots to Hot Spots to Action, their first-ever impact report.  It’s full of stunning data about the huge weight that consumer goods place on people and the planet. Since it covers more than 80% of consumer goods product categories, it is the comprehensive way to understand environmental hot spots in global supply chains.

Which means the “no visibility” excuse is now officially over. Read more

How 10 Years in the Trenches with Walmart Built an On-Ramp for the Future

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377I'm really proud of the tireless and innovative work that EDF's Corporate Partnership team has done with Walmart. It's been a successful 10-year journey  and I've done a lot of cheer leading over the last decade.

But now I'd like to look forward. Because we still have huge environmental challenges to tackle, and we're still looking to powerful businesses, like Walmart, to model the way toward a sustainable future.

Through our work with Walmart, McDonald's, FedEx and others over the past 25-years, we've seen a framework for corporate sustainability leadership emerge that other companies can use, across industries and around the world.

For EDF, this framework is critical to spreading environmental and business benefits throughout the corporate sector. By sharing best practices, EDF can have impact that extends far beyond the individual companies that are our partners. Read more

Dream Conversation: Paul Polman (Unilever) and Doug McMillon (Walmart) at a Paris Café

In the wake of the COP 21 talks in Paris, I’m heartened by what appears to have been a strong business presence there. Does the agreement go far enough? It’s a start. Which then got me day dreaming about the ideal, “what’s next” conversations that I hoped were taking place (along with really good coffee and pastry, of course!).

So, without further ado, here is my dream COP 21 conversation (entirely a figment of my imagination, of course. But hey—a girl can dream, can’t she?):

The scene: a bustling Café in Paris’ 4th arrondissement.

5238558290_fdbe123f99_oThe players: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart. Both men sip espressos.

Doug:  May I join you?

Paul: Doug, great to see you!  Have a seat!  How are you?

Doug (sitting): I’m exhausted. I never realized how much of a circus these global meetings are. Hey, congratulations on the Times article! Man, that’s showing ‘em how business can lead on sustainability.

Paul: Thanks—and look who’s talking! Congrats yourself on reducing all those CO2 emissions. How many million metric tons again? Twenty?

Doug: It was actually twenty-eight, thank you very much! It all just goes to show you: set a BHAG, and big innovation follows.

Paul: “BHAG”?

Doug: A BHAG— a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal. Our 20 million metric tons pledge in 2010 was a BHAG. So was your pledge to halve Unilever’s environmental impact by 2020. I bet when you made that you didn’t know exactly how you were going to get it done, am I right? And yet, you’re on your way—and already seeing results? Read more

Climbing Toward Corporate Sustainability, Even Walmart Can’t Do It Alone

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377Ten years ago, the CEO of Walmart and the president of Environmental Defense Fund hiked together on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Along the way, Lee Scott of Walmart (now retired) and Fred Krupp of EDF talked about climate change and the environmental challenges of our time. They also talked about ways that Walmart could drive positive environmental change in its product lines and operations.

The hike turned out to be the start of a ten-year journey of collaboration between Walmart and EDF, one that has helped define a new model of corporate sustainability.

In a speech that year, Lee Scott laid out three aspirational goals:

“Our environmental goals at Walmart are simple and straightforward:
1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
2. To create zero waste.
3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

These goals are both ambitious and aspirational, and I’m not sure how to achieve them…..at least not yet. This obviously will take some time…”

Lee Scott, Oct. 23, 2005

Now, on the ten-year anniversary of the 21st Century Leadership speech, EDF is taking a moment to take stock of how far this journey has taken us and the distance left to travel.

First, what have we achieved? Here are three of our proudest accomplishments:

EDF and Walmart - removing 20MMT of GHG from its global supply chain

Click to enlarge

1. Today, Walmart is announcing that it will surpass its aggressive goal of reducing 20 MMT of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain. In total, Walmart will reduce 28 MMT of GHG from its supply chain by the end of 2015. To achieve this goal, Walmart tackled a diverse range of projects: from helping end consumers through improving products like LED light bulbs; to creating a Closed Loop Recycling fund, and changing food date labeling to reduce waste; and working with EDF to conserve fertilizer use on over 20 million acres of U.S. farmland.

Overall, the 20 MMT reduction of GHG from Walmart’s supply chain is the equivalent of getting almost six million cars off the road.

Yes, EDF pushed Walmart to set this goal; but we also worked side by side with them to achieve it. It is this type of long-term collaboration that drives results at scale, an achievement foreshadowed by EDF president Fred Krupp when he said, "When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world."

2. In 2013, Walmart put a chemicals policy in place that is phasing out chemicals of concern in over 100,000 home and personal care products like laundry soap and shampoo. Private brand products now list all of their ingredients online so consumers have more transparency into what chemicals they are using in their home and on their bodies.

3. EDF and Walmart helped create the Sustainability Index, a tool powered by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) that has evaluated billions of dollars of products on Walmart shelves. To date, 70% of Walmart suppliers have filled out the Index. Read more

Powerful Business: The Lever for Change Across the Supply Chain

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
-Archimedes

Sometimes when a problem seems too big, too ugly and too complex to handle, you need a lever to help move things along.  All of the big environmental problems we currently face fall into this category.

When it comes to tackling our planet’s biggest problems, there is a full spectrum of approaches and many different leverage points. For me, the most important lever is business. A thriving planet and a thriving economy don’t have to be at odds. EDF is focusing on helping businesses make their supply chains cleaner, more efficient and more profitable.

Working with powerful business has been a cornerstone of EDF’s approach ever since we launched our 1st partnership with McDonald’s 25 years ago. Since then, we have kick-started market transformations in fast food with McDonalds and Starbucks, shipping with FedEx, retail with Walmart, and private equity with KKR. With each partnership, we’ve worked to create new, sustainable demand signals that extend across the supply chain. When powerful business speaks, suppliers listen. EDF is helping the most impactful companies commit to selling sustainably-produced products, encouraging every supplier and producer contributing to those products to also adopt more sustainable practices. Read more

Consumers Get Their Say in Supporting Sustainable Products

Like teenagers, all ground-breaking products or ideas go through an awkward adolescent phase.  And, like teenagers, the only way products or ideas can move past the clumsy stage and blossom into a sought after, form-meets-function icon is through experience.  Meaning, real consumers have to put them through their paces: does this work? How could it work better? Revise, improve, re-test, repeat… that’s how you make something truly effective; truly great.

Sustainability-Shop bug_115x115

All this is by way of acknowledging a group of sustainable-minded collaborators on the coming-out party this week for Walmart’s “Sustainability Leaders Shop”, an online shopping portal that “will allow customers to easily identify brands that are leading sustainability within a special category”.  It is, literally, the very first time a quantifiable, science-based index of various products’ sustainable provenance is being placed in the hands of consumers at the scale that only Walmart can provide. Read more

President Obama Goes to Walmart

I never really expected to be sitting in a Walmart in Mountain View, CA listening to President Obama speak about environmental commitments, but I am excited for the momentum he is generating, particularly in the private sector, to support the EPA announcement on carbon limits on June 2nd.

Obama WalmartSo why Walmart?

The President is making a point. Walmart gets about 25 percent of its global electricity from renewables. In the United States over all, only about 2 percent of power comes from solar sources. In 2005, Walmart set a goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy. To date Walmart has 335 renewable energy projects underway or in development across their global portfolio. Having the president hold Walmart up as a role model is a great way to drive other industry leaders to follow suit.

This recognition is great news to EDF since we are a key NGO partner to Walmart and have been working with them on environmental solutions since 2005. (See the full EDF – Walmart partnership timeline). In 2008, EDF and Walmart announced a jointly-developed clean energy project to install and assess next generation solar technology at over 30 Walmart facilities. Today Walmart has 250 solar energy systems installed in the U.S. and has a solar energy capacity of 65,000 kW, top of the Solar Energy Industries Association rankings of U.S. companies.

Are industry leaders following suit?

The private and public sector commitments announced today represent more than 850 megawatts of solar deployed – enough to power nearly 130,000 homes – as well as energy efficiency investments that will lower bills for more than 1 billion square feet of buildings. Additionally, the President announced new executive actions that will lead to $2 billion in energy efficiency investments in Federal buildings.

We are especially excited to see companies step up for the President’s Better Buildings Challenge which will improve energy efficiency of more than 1 billion square feet of new floor space by 20 percent by 2020. New to the President’s roster are General Motors (committing 84 million square feet), MGM Resorts (78 million square feet) and Walmart (850 million square feet).

See the complete listing of private and public sector organizations making commitments today for solar deployment and energy efficiency.

Here at EDF, we believe that companies and business leaders must pave the way to a low-carbon and prosperous economy. Today Walmart committed to double the number of onsite solar energy projects at U.S. Stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers by 2020. This is in addition to their goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their global supply chain by 20 million metric tons by the end of 2015.

We think President Obama’s making his announcement at Walmart today was a clear signal to the public and private sector that business needs to step up and publicly commit to ambitious environmental goals. Walmart continues to do this, and we look forward to many other industry leaders following suit.

Business is the New Environmentalist

I just returned from Walmart’s first Sustainable Products Expo, where thousands of suppliers gathered to talk about sustainability, show off their products and make commitments for action. There’s a new energy behind sustainability thanks to Walmart’s increasing efforts over the past ten years and their dynamic new CEO, Doug McMillon.

Elizabeth Sturcken

Elizabeth Sturcken addressing the crowd at the Walmart Sustainable Products Expo

Environmental Defense Fund has been there every step of the way, pushing Walmart hard to set and follow through on aggressive yet achievable goals that can drive the kind of change that only a company that has over 100,000 global suppliers and 250 million customers a week can.

Strong Goals:  A Powerful Driver of Action

After 25 years of working with business, we know that setting goals matters in making real and lasting change.

This week’s Expo is a great example: we worked with Walmart for years to set and announce their groundbreaking goal of reducing 20 million metric tons (MT) of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain. And on stage with them this week, we saw leading brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg’s and General Mills stepping forward and committing to action on fertilizer and recycling — two of the biggest areas of opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Walmart’s supply chain — directly as a result of that 20 million MT goal.

Walmart and their suppliers are seeing opportunities to make improvements not because they’re required to do so, but because it’s just good business.

Closing the Loop on Recycling

9 companies came together with the Walmart Foundation to start The Closed Loop Fund, a $100 million initiative to help communities finance recycling infrastructure projects. Their goal is to ensure that 100 percent of U.S. consumers have access to recycling.

These companies — Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies, Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson and Unilever — have been facing a big hurdle in including more postconsumer recycled content in their products: recycling rates are stagnant and they can’t get enough materials from recycling streams to meet their goals. The Fund is part of Walmart’s holistic strategy to ask suppliers to include more postconsumer recycled content in their packaging while moving away from materials that are problematic for recycling.

Right-Sizing Fertilizer Use

From the same stage, six more companies’ CEOs — Campbell Soup Company, Monsanto, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), General Mills, Kellogg Company and PepsiCo, plus Cargill’s chairman of the board — committed to make their agricultural operations more sustainable, with goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fertilizer and water use. For many of them, this was in addition to work that they’ve already launched with Walmart to optimize fertilizer use in its supply chain. If fully implemented, this could result in greenhouse gas reductions of 7 million metric tons, reduce fertilizer runoff and help farmers cut costs.

The specific commitments each company made range from reducing the amount of GHG emissions and water used per ton of food produced (Campbells) to increasing farmers’ utilization of sustainable farming practices (Cargill, DFA, General Mills, Kellogg Company, PepsiCo).

What Really Matters:  Getting It Done

The work that Walmart and its suppliers is doing, catalyzed by the 20MMT goal, is not easy — it’s rooted in the notion that to get the kind of environmental results needed to address an issue like climate change, you need a systems approach and you need to work with suppliers. Even the world’s largest company working alone is not enough.

This week Walmart used its clout to bring together leading companies and give them a platform from which to make their commitment. Together, these companies represent more than a trillion dollars in total revenue. That’s a lot of power in the marketplace being leveraged for sustainability goals. Of course, in the end we’ll judge them all by  results— significant, measurable and transparent impacts of their efforts — and we expect Walmart to help hold them accountable for this progress.

EDF Expert Shares 4 Ways to Increase Profitability and Sustainability in 2014

Elizabeth Sturcken

Recently, EDF expert Elizabeth Sturcken wrote a post featured on Retailing Today about 4 ways to increase profitability in 2014. She highlights that “as the holiday dust clears and we settle into a new year, it’s only fitting that retailers take a moment to reflect on successes of 2013 and identify opportunities for 2014.”

Sturcken and her team put their heads together to identify the following opportunities to maximize efficiency and benefit the bottom line:

  1. Look at your waste
  2. Look at how you are transporting goods and products
  3. Look to source and sell better products
  4. Look at your buildings Read more