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. Read more

Walmart Vaults Past Fleet Efficiency Goals Ahead of Schedule

It’s one thing to reach a goal, stop and toast your success. But in the case of Walmart’s announcement yesterday, the finish line became a mile marker and now the company is looking at how much farther it can go.

In 2005, we worked with Walmart to set its first long-term freight goals – to increase its fleet efficiency by 25 percent by 2008 and then to double it by 2015. Walmart cleared the first goal with room to spare and announced yesterday that it has not only doubled fleet efficiency but is now on track to go further – and in the process, will avoid almost 650,000 metric tons of CO2 and save nearly $1 billion in this fiscal year alone.Trucks-Walmart

It’s a testament to the holistic approach Walmart’s taken to improve the efficiency of its fleets. The Walmart sustainability team started by choosing a specific metric of cases shipped per gallon burned in 2005 – shipping the most cases of goods the fewest miles using the most efficient equipment – and then attacked the problem from all sides to get it done.

As companies work to increase the efficiency of their freight moves – taking steps on their Green Freight Journey – it’s tempting to choose one area to work on at a time. But by choosing a few key areas to focus on – developing innovative solutions for loading, routing and driving techniques, and collaborating with tractor and trailer manufacturers on new technologies – Walmart was able to bolster freight efficiency along its supply chain at multiple points. 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… 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

How Campbells is Helping to Make Sustainable Growing the New Normal

There’s a lot of momentum in the sustainable agriculture world. We helped Walmart discover that fertilizer runoff is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, and they’re now working with suppliers to improve the way grain is grown across the U.S. That’s because half of all fertilizer applied to crops runs off the field, leading to water pollution, aquatic dead zones that kill marine life, and contributing to climate change – since the nitrogen in fertilizer runoff converts to nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Major food companies are also recognizing that increased weather variability from climate change can cause supply chain disruptions, that their customers are demanding transparency for how their food was grown, and that it’s in their best interest to meet retailers’ demands for sustainably grown grain.


That’s why Campbell’s Soup has focused on growing its vegetables as sustainably as possible, and why its Pepperidge Farm subsidiary is now investing in wheat sustainability in their Ohio and Nebraska sourcing areas.

My colleague Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability at EDF, recently interviewed Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to get his take on this unprecedented momentum. Below are the highlights of their conversation on why his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, what they’re hearing from customers, and about why sustainable grain is becoming the new normal. Read more

Less-Risky Business: Turning Deforestation Commitments into Action

By Alisha Staggs, Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships, and Ben Young, Intern, Corporate Partnerships

Deforestation in Brazil

Deforestation in Brazil

Increasingly, major companies are seeing forest protection as a key component of their global strategy. However, many companies have yet to identify the concrete action steps to fulfill these goals.

Why not? Most likely because the agricultural landscape is complicated.

Major food retailers illustrate perfectly the complexities of the modern agricultural supply chain. These international corporations are tasked with managing a complex supply web of beef, coffee, soy, and other products that spans continents. Increasingly, the environmental impacts of these commodities cannot be viewed in isolation.

In Brazil, for instance, research suggests that increased demand for soy has pushed cattle ranching onto less productive land within the Amazon. While the cattle ranchers may be directly responsible for deforestation, the ultimate driver is the soy demand. On top of that, production of palm oil, another priority product for many consumer goods companies, is expected to more than double in the Amazon biome over the next decade.

So— how can a company ensure they are sourcing sustainable commodities without destroying the rainforest in the process? Read more

Less-Risky Business: 5 Reasons Companies Should Fight Deforestation

By Alisha Staggs, Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships, and Ben Young, Intern, Corporate Partnerships

forest-lossOver the last 12 months, we’ve seen a number of companies commit to reducing deforestation in their supply chain. At last count, 273 companies have made some sort of deforestation pledge across a multitude of agricultural commodities.

Yet, we often find ourselves questioning the sincerity of these claims. Are these companies simply trying to save face? Surely any action to avoid deforestation will be costly, and companies aren’t known for taking on added expenses voluntarily. So what’s in it for them?

The answer: a lot. Here are the top 5 factors that catalyze corporate leaders into taking global forest loss seriously: Read more

Why Unsustainable Agriculture is a Business Risk

Business driving sustainable agricultureWhat comes to mind when you think of sustainable food production? If you’re like many Americans, you probably picture a local farmer’s market, celebrity-branded salad dressing or an organic farmer growing heirloom lettuces and free-range chickens.

Now, what comes to mind when you think of industrial food production? Do you envision acres of conventionally grown corn stretching as far as the eye can see? Giant feed lots? Factories that process food into “center aisle” products for the supermarket?

When we think about sustainable food production, most people don’t think about solutions coming from Big Business. Yet corporations have the potential to become our biggest ally in meeting SDG 12, the sustainability development goal set forth by the United Nations to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns by 2030.

Here’s why Read more

Product Design: Where the Rubber Hits the Road on Safer Chemicals

Behind the Label_FThe call for safer chemicals and products has reached a tipping point in the marketplace. A recently released report from the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) lays out compelling market trends for safer chemicals across several indicators including demand, capital flow, and job growth. The report notes that the growth rate for safer chemicals is expected to be 24 times higher than that for conventional chemicals over the time period of 2011-2020. In sum, there is tremendous market opportunity for companies able to deliver on demonstrably safer chemicals and products.

Today, EDF is publishing the fourth of five installments on its Pillars of Leadership for Safer Chemicals in the Marketplace: Product Design. The Product Design leadership pillar is about getting specific on how a company will move away from problematic chemicals and ensure the use of safer chemicals. It’s about putting Institutional Commitments to safer products and chemicals into action.

In a nutshell, the Product Design leadership pillar includes four key parts:

  1. Establishing specific measurable objectives with timelines (e.g., percentage reduction of a target chemical by a certain time);
  1. Determining a methodology for how a company will meet objectives (i.e., identifying how information on the hazards and risks of chemicals will be developed and subsequently used to make decisions on product development and sale);
  1. Identifying internal and external stakeholders that are needed to successfully meet objectives; and
  1. Developing a timeline for tracking progress against objectives, reevaluating and updating objectives, and assessing the overall effectiveness of the Product Design process.

Product Design for safer chemicals is where the rubber hits the road in a company’s journey from Institutional Commitments to impact.  It helps companies become leaders in the rapidly expanding marketplace for safer products – and leads to a healthier world.

Linking Supply Chains and REDD+ to Reduce Deforestation

Two tropical forest conservation efforts have gained momentum in recent years: zero deforestation commitments from the private sector and the policy framework Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Both efforts are necessary, but not sufficient in themselves to eliminate global deforestation.

Zero Deforestation Zones

Private sector conservation initiatives on individual farms (represented by green trees in the left image) can result in pockets of forest surrounded by deforestation, but Zero Deforestation Zones can conserve forests throughout entire jurisdictions (represented by the green state-wide program in the right image). Credit: Rick Velleu, EDF

In a recently published paper in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, we find that linking REDD+ and zero deforestation commitments offers a more efficient and effective solution to stop deforestation, which we call Zero Deforestation Zones (ZDZ).

The current state of private initiatives and REDD+

Deforestation, which is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gases, is primarily caused by conversion for the production of four commodities in Brazil and Indonesia: beef, soy, palm, and timber products. To address this urgent problem, companies that control more than 90% of soy purchases in the Amazon, around half of cattle slaughter in the Brazilian Amazon, and 96% of palm oil trade globally have committed to stop deforestation. 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