The journey that EDF and Walmart have traveled together began—fittingly—with a hike.
Buoyed by successful projects with McDonald's and FedEx, EDF had been eyeing some sort of working relationship with Walmart for years. In the mid-1990s, EDF’s president Fred Krupp traveled to the Walmart headquarters in Bentonville to test the waters, but came away empty handed. “At the time, the leadership then, at least as high as I was able to get, didn't have a lot of interest," said Krupp.
Everything changed in 2005 when, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, then-Walmart-CEO Lee Scott laid out three aspirational goals:
- To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy;
- To create zero waste;
- To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.
Sensing a sea-change in Walmart’s mood, Krupp extended an invitation to join him and Brown University Professor Steve Hamburg (now EDF’s Chief Scientist) on a hike up New Hampshire’s famed Mount Washington, and the CEO accepted.
After a side trip to visit a New Hampshire maple farmer whose four-generation-old family syrup business was being jeopardized by warmer weather, Scott, Krupp and Hamburg hiked up the mountain to a weather station. This was the perfect setting to have a discussion about climate change—and the implications it held for Walmart’s business operations.
That Mount Washington hike led to a series of two-day field trips, and the ingredients for a partnership were in place—but the EDF board still needed convincing. At the time, Walmart was under attack on multiple fronts, and just about the last name that one associated with environmentalism. Some felt that an alignment with the massive corporation carried with it significant reputational risk.
But EDF’s pragmatic, solutions-driven approach won the day. “When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world,” said Krupp. “Once Walmart had an interest in being a leader on these issues, it was pretty easy to see the incredible potential there.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Recognizing that many of Walmart’s suppliers had offices in Bentonville (it helped build both relationships and access), EDF set up an outpost there as well, and the two organizations never looked back. What began as a hike had turned into a full-tilt gallop—so much so that, in 2015, Walmart announced that it had actually surpassed its 2010 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 28 million metric tons (the equivalent of removing six million cars from the road).
What’s next for the partnership? Setting (and then accomplishing) Walmart’s 2025 sustainability goals. Stay tuned!