Upping the ante on corporate climate leadership – by a gigaton

With the Trump Administration pulling back on federal climate action, I am heartened to see that U.S. businesses are starting to assert their leadership role in the fight for a cleaner, safer world. Bold leadership is an essential factor for business today — and no company is delivering on this more than Walmart.

The world's largest retailer recently announced Project Gigaton, arguably one of the most ambitious efforts to reduce climate pollution by any U.S. corporation.

With Project Gigaton, Walmart and its suppliers are committing to a ‘moon shot’ goal – removing a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions from the company's global supply chain by 2030. That's more than the annual emissions of Germany. It's the equivalent of taking 211 million cars off the road every year. In a word, it’s transformational.

Breaking the mold together, then and now

Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund

Eleven years ago, I traveled to the top of Mount Washington with then Walmart CEO Lee Scott, and we talked about the company's vast potential to drive environmental progress. Since then, an amazing ripple effect has spread across the entire retail sector. Working together, EDF, Walmart and others have gathered commitments for optimized fertilizer use on 23 million acres of U.S. farmland; eradicated 36 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions across the retail supply chain; and improved the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of everyday products like shampoo and laundry detergent. This work is invisible to most, but massive on an environmental scale, and nothing less than trailblazing for how business leadership and legacy is measured.

For the last quarter century Environmental Defense Fund has proven the power of business-NGO partnerships to create wins for both business and the environment. Walmart’s willingness to challenge itself and its supply chain to do better has meshed perfectly with EDF’s pragmatic approach to forging innovative solutions.

Back in 2005, it was uncommon business news when Walmart announced aspirational goals to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and environment. Neither Walmart nor EDF knew how we’d achieve those goals, but we set off on the journey together and found success along the way.

Walmart is in it for the long haul

For leading brands like Walmart and their suppliers, long-term economics will always outweigh short-term politics. Staying the course on sustainability is motivated by competitiveness, innovation, job creation and consumer demand. Smart business leaders understand that a thriving economy depends on a thriving environment. This is not an either/or choice. By 2050, we will have 9.5 billion global consumers, all demanding more food, goods and services. The commitment to Project Gigaton signals Walmart’s readiness to plan accordingly.

The Project Gigaton challenge is massive, but by working collaboratively, our confidence for success is high. The modern supply chain is responsible for 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80% of all water use and 66% of all tropical deforestation.  This is not a goal that Walmart can do alone. It takes committed collaboration: of NGOs, partners, and an extensive network of suppliers – many leading brands in their own right – to drive reductions from factories to farms to forests, fleets and beyond.

Creating long-term prosperity for business and the environment requires long-term commitment from both business and NGOs. Together, EDF and Walmart have already climbed one mountain, and now we are ready to ascend even steeper peaks. The planet is counting on us.


Follow Fred on Twitter, @FredKrupp


 

Corporate America’s “moon shot”: Walmart’s Project Gigaton

 

At a time when leadership from the federal government is decidedly lacking, today’s launch of Walmart’s Project Gigaton is a cause for celebration. It is proof that companies can step up to advance solutions that will help business, people and nature thrive.

Just like Walmart itself, this is big.

The world’s largest retailer has launched an initiative to remove 1 gigaton (that’s 1 billion tons — billion with a “b”) of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from its supply chain by 2030. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of removing the annual emissions of Germany — the world’s fourth-largest economy — from the atmosphere. This audacious goal is impressive; it’s corporate America’s “moon shot,” and it shows real leadership.

Why? Because, according to The Sustainability Consortium, the modern supply chain is responsible for 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of all water use and 66 percent of all tropical deforestation. And with the global population projected to swell to 9.5 billion consumers by 2050, it is clear there is not just a crucial opportunity for businesses to meet growing global demand, there is also a real need to protect the planet. Embracing sustainable practices is no longer an option for business. It is an imperative. The planet needs fast action at a massive scale.

So do forward-looking CEOs. Shareholders are rewarding resiliency when companies climate-proof their global operations. And customers, especially millennials, expect sustainability to be baked into the things they buy. In short, business is looking to drive bottom-line value, including growth, with sustainability.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

Which explains the significant Project Gigaton commitments being made by companies like Unilever (20 million metric tons of GHG reduction) and Land O’ Lakes (20 million acres sustainably farmed) and commitments made in the past six months by Apple, Amazon, Google, PepsiCo, Smithfield Foods and others.

Execution and delivery

But setting goals is just the first step. The execution and delivery must follow to complete this journey.

Which brings me back to this moon shot: Walmart cannot do this alone. Project Gigaton will take a village — in this case, the tens of thousands of companies that make up Walmart’s global supplier network — to make this goal a reality. And that’s a good thing: Eliminating GHG emissions at this scale will reverberate across entire sectors and industries. It will be the change to “business as usual” that’s long overdue.

That’s all fine and well, rhetorically. But what if you’re a CEO or CSR exec who’s facing the hard reality of “Where do I start”?

Some new research by Environmental Defense Fund starts to sketch out a roadmap to success — and illustrates the need for supply-chain partners to get on the bus. While we’re just at the beginning of a deep dive into the sustainability of the U.S. retail supply chain, our initial findings show two things:  the complexity and emission hotspots of box chain retailers and three clear, initial areas of focus:

  1. The supply chain is the largest source of emissions. If there was any doubt left, put it to rest: 80 percent of retail emissions occur in the supply chain; 12 percent are associated with the use and disposal of products and 8 percent come directly from retail operations — mostly buildings and facilities.
  2. Grocery is a huge hotspot and opportunity. Are you a retailer? Food company? Agricultural service provider? Farmer? Nearly half — 48 percent — of supply-chain greenhouse gas emissions come from the grocery category, which encompasses everything from fresh meat, veggies and dairy, to bakery, dry goods, beverages, snacks and frozen products. Together, these and other products emits 1.7 gigatons of GHGs (there’s that billion thing again). In other words, food production — and food waste — is definitely a place to make your numbers — and to make a difference. (Talk about low-hanging fruit!)
  3. Electricity is the biggest activity that contributes to emissions. From factories to farmhouses, whether powering a business or refrigerating an item at home, using electricity is the largest activity that produces emissions for consumer packaged goods production. Think about that: by tackling electricity use, whether from conservation or renewable energy, business leaders can not only run a more efficient operation, they can also engage their customers on which products to buy and how to best use them. That’s good business.

For those who have been paying attention to these issues for decades, these big opportunities won’t come as a surprise. But they help sharpen the focus for supply-chain professionals searching to answer the question of where to put effort and investment to get the most emissions-reduction results. Scale and speed are necessary. Knowing where to focus is critical. The EDF research is in the early stages and we plan to release the full results later this year.

In the meantime, kudos to Walmart. As suppliers make commitments for Project Gigaton that will drive reductions from factories to farms to forests to fleets, it will become imperative to identify hotspots to enable the largest impact. That’s exactly what drives innovation and the environmental impact we need.

The supply chain may be complicated, but the rewards are well worth it: thriving companies, thriving communities and a thriving planet.

Jump on the Project Gigaton moon shot. It’s leaving the launching pad, with or without you.


Follow Elizabeth on Twitter, @esturcken


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