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… 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.

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

Guardian US Live Chat Recap: EDF, Walmart and Marc Gunther Evaluate the Sustainability Index

Last week, EDF Managing Director Elizabeth Sturcken joined Jeff Rice, Walmart’s director of sustainability, and Marc Gunther for a live chat broadcast on the Guardian US Sustainable Business Blog.

The discussion focused on Walmart’s Sustainability Index, which aims to set a sustainability standard for products by evaluating the company’s suppliers. With over 100,000 suppliers across the globe, this is quite the massive undertaking for the world’s largest retailer.

Read more

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.

Putting Mother Jones Walmart Article in Perspective

In an article posted online this week, Mother Jones magazine makes a sweeping critique of Walmart’s efforts to reduce the environmental impacts created by its Chinese supply chain. Having been closely involved with Walmart on these and other sustainability initiatives since 2005, we’d like to offer EDF’s perspective on the story, and on what’s at stake in terms of both risk and opportunity.

The sheer scale of Walmart’s business – not to mention its influence on broader markets – means even small improvements in energy and water use, emissions and other metrics translate into major environmental benefits. And big steps can change the game entirely. All of that is doubly true when we are talking about its massive footprint in China’s industrial base.

A big part of learning how to make change work is learning what doesn’t work. There are fits and starts in any major initiative, and we would be worried if we weren’t hitting a few dead ends, because that would mean we aren’t being creative or ambitious enough in our thinking.

For example, it is true that some of the energy efficiency projects with Walmart suppliers discussed in the article did not pan out as we had initially hoped. We also believe that Walmart made some missteps like not dedicating consistent resources to the effort, and moving slowly to adopt robust accounting and auditing procedures.

Nevertheless, we continue to believe strongly that Walmart is serious about its sustainability agenda. And for EDF, working with Walmart remains a huge leverage point for making change throughout the global economy.

Yes, Walmart can do more — and more they ultimately must do if they are going to succeed. And sure, there have been many times we wanted it all to move faster.  But none of that changes the impact that the company’s engagement on sustainability issues has had and could continue to have.

Even in China, where it has been a bumpy road, EDF has taken lessons from Walmart’s experience and used it to launch a new program aimed at aggregating and financing energy efficiency upgrades across a range of factories in the retail supply chain.

We think the story of Walmart’s sustainability work will evolve further this year, as the company’s two-year investment in product lifecycle analyses and carbon reporting tools start playing an increasingly important role in supplier relationships and product design.

None of this is simple or easy. Integrating sustainability in an enterprise like Walmart is a multi-pronged, multi-year effort stretching well beyond its own four walls. And because the going can be hard, it is great to know that the media are watching and helping to keep Walmart and other companies that are at the forefront on their toes.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) does not accept payment or donations from Walmart or any of our other corporate partners. See our corporate donation policy.

Walmart finds money in a shoebox

Walmart’s The Green Room recently published a blog about shoeboxes. For a behemoth retailer like Walmart, one would think that worrying about shoeboxes isn’t high on its list of priorities. But this attention to detail is the kind of thing that makes environmental progress possible and Walmart effective.


In 2005, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Walmart partnered to transform the consumer retail industry. We’ve received plenty of criticism for that, but these shoeboxes are the perfect example behind our reasoning. When the largest company in the world decides to pay attention to shoeboxes, the impact is huge. In only ten months, Walmart produced 14.4 million shoeboxes, and saved 692 tons of paper and 400,000 pounds of solid waste, among other impressive figures.


Walmart realized that by manufacturing its own shoeboxes, it could have more control over the design. Innovative thinking and an unconventional decision led to some impressive results – a 43 percent reduction of paper use and 28 percent in costs. Companies need to think creatively and ask questions. Asking “why” is always a good place to start. Why do we do things this way? Is it to save money, or is it because this is the way we’ve been doing it for years? The greatest innovations are a result of someone just asking “why?” Don’t be afraid to challenge the system.

Shared Learnings

The significance behind this one blog post goes much further than just the savings Walmart found in switching shoeboxes, but it is the sharing of these learnings that will ripple through the industry. When Walmart communicates innovations and asks its 100,000 suppliers to do the same, it creates real opportunities for big change. Just imagine how much more we can achieve if more companies were willing to share their environmental wins?

Companies, like Walmart, have the resources to make change happen. They can strategize and implement with speed, pushing the envelope on innovation and environmental sustainability.  I sincerely hope that more retailers, and all companies for that matter, will explore environmental opportunities, implement similar initiatives and share the results of their work so we can take the change we need to scale, and create a healthier economy and planet.