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

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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

Leading On Chemicals: Not Just by Example, But By Commitments

BtlHeadlinesFor a number of years in the environmental world, we’ve been able to talk about the public commitments companies are making – and achieving – with respect to impacts like greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. Lately, companies have begun to publicly discuss goals related to safer products, recognizing that safer chemicals are part of the sustainability conversation.

For example, in the food sector, companies have cracked opened the proverbial “kitchen door” and started to share with consumers what is not in their products. This glimpse into the food-making process comes in the form of public commitments made by more than 10 major food manufacturers and restaurants in 2015 alone to eliminate or reduce artificial colors and flavors. Similar activity is occurring elsewhere, like the electronics sector and personal care sector.

But, what is leadership when it comes to public commitments? Today, we tackle this question as part of our series on the leadership pillars for safer chemicals in the marketplace. In a nutshell, leadership on public commitment goes beyond a one-time publication of goals; it requires a company to make frequent, transparent communication about its safer chemicals journey. Three key actions companies can and should take:

  1. Publish a corporate chemicals policy
  2. Share progress and
  3. Communicate the process

Of course, going public has its challenges, such as opening the door to criticism. But, good things happen as well when a company goes public with its goals and journey.

A company can rally its supporters inside the company and supply chain. It can find new allies in the media, business, and non-profit worlds. It can build consumer confidence in its brand. Finally, being open about goals and the subsequent journey helps a company succeed in its quest to meet those goals.

Today we’ve updated our Behind the Label website to delve further into the elements of leadership on public commitment and the associated hurdles and opportunities.

In addition to outlining what leadership on public commitment means, we’ve started tracking the commitments some companies are making, so those newer to the process have a sense of where to get started. We’re beginning with the food sector, where grocers, restaurants and food manufacturers have become increasingly vocal about the food additives they are eliminating.

Further reading to help you get Behind the Label: