From 2005 through 2015, the Corporate Partnerships team of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) worked on the ground with the world's largest retailer to drive sustainability across its global supply chain.

case study thumb2Ten years ago, the gravity of the challenges facing the environment demanded that big business and environmental NGOs evolve if they were going to continue to thrive. EDF had moved from suing big business in the 1960s to partnering with them in the 1990s. Walmart, the most powerful business at the top of the Fortune 500, took a major step toward sustainability with then CEO Lee Scott’s “21st Century Leadership” speech. In Scott’s declaration, EDF saw an opportunity to use the huge retailer’s leverage to embed sustainability across a global supply chain. The time was right to step forward and publicly partner with Walmart.

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 Key Stories from the Journey

Getting the Partnership off the Ground The journey that EDF and Walmart have traveled together began—fittingly—with a hike. Buoyed by successful projects with McDonalds 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: 1.To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; 2. To create zero waste; 3. 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. 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.  

But everything changed in 2005 when, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, then-Walmart-CEO Lee Scott laid out three aspirational goals. 

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Meet Super-Eco-Business-Mom When new mom JENNY AHLEN feeds her daughter, she may also be pondering this question: how do we feed a global population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050? That’s because Jenny is also EDF’s team lead for their partnership with Walmart, which gives her both a unique perspective and a unique power. She knows the stakes are high for the world her daughter will grow up in. But Jenny is in a position to do something about it. Thus, she spends her days working with the world’s largest retailer trying to figure out the best approach to “fertilizer optimization”: the science behind increasing yields while reducing the environmental impacts of crop production. How did Jenny arrive at this nexus of the nursery and contemporary eco-business?

Meet Super-Eco-Business Mom!

When new mom Jenny Ahlen feeds her daughter, she may also be pondering this question: how do we feed a global population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050?

That’s because Jenny is also EDF’s team lead for their partnership with Walmart, which gives her both a unique perspective and a unique power. She knows the stakes are high for the world her daughter will grow up in. But Jenny is in a position to do something about it.   

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scienceMeasuring for Success

When then-Walmart-CEO Lee Scott gave his “21st Century Leadership” speech in 2005, he was making a major public statement: the world’s largest retailer was intent on becoming more sustainable. Luckily, Walmart wasn’t alone on their journey towards sustainability. EDF was right there with them—and at EDF’s core was one, overriding principal: science.    

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Boma Brown-West2Engineering For Safer Chemicals

What do dishwashers have to do with the safety of toxic chemicals? Well, aside from the fact that dish washing detergents may contain toxins, both dishwashers and chemicals are firmly ingrained inside Boma Brown-Wests’ brain. As Manager of Consumer Health at EDF, Boma leads our Behind the Label initiative, which lays out a path to corporate leadership in this area.    

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systems blog imageThe BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)

In 2010, several years after Walmart and EDF began their partnership, a couple of things were troubling the EDF team: Walmart had mapped out some ambitious sustainability goals, but a) they lacked specificity, and b) they didn’t directly address the central issue of the day: climate change.

Responding to EDF’s challenge to do better, the Walmart team began setting their sites on what a meaningful reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) would look like.  

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WMT_Biz_FrameworkScience/Strategy/Systems: A Framework for Corporate Sustainability Success
Understanding that companies have the innovative capacity and the reach to bring about change on a global scale, EDF has made corporate partnerships a cornerstone of its approach since 1990. Given the size of the environmental challenges we face today, a collaborative, systems-based approach will be critical if we are to conserve the planet’s natural resources while allowing business and society to thrive.    

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