Walmart’s Business Practices, and What They Mean for the Sustainable Workforce
People are very quick to identify with the first half of Walmart’s slogan: save money. But what many people don’t know is that Walmart also values and promises something else in it’s slogan: helping you “live better.” Following years of consumer backlash for unreasonable wages and poor environmental standards, Walmart is striking back with more environmentally friendly policies. Through increased corporate standards and a thorough examination of supplier practices Walmart is actually working to improve it’s own environmental impact, while also helping consumers to save money and live better. And most notably, these sustainability goals emphasize the need for more “green collar” employees, well-versed in environmentally-friendly business practices.
Perhaps one of the biggest blemishes on Walmart’s environmental track record was its violations of the Clean Water Act at 17 locations in 2001. According to the EPA’s press release about the violations, a settlement was reached which required that Walmart create an environmental management plan, as well as pay $1 million in fines. Pursuant to the environmental management plan, Walmart now requires contractors to certify that appropriate storm water control measures are in place before construction begins. Additionally, Walmart improved environmental compliance during ongoing construction projects by monitoring pollutants in storm water and reporting results to the EPA. But rather than simply complying with the EPA’s settlement agreement, Walmart overhauled its environmental policies as a whole.
So what exactly is Walmart doing to reduce its ecological footprint? Beginning in 2007, Walmart clearly laid out the foundation of its environmental plan, which focuses on three areas: renewable energy, waste management, and sustainability. The main goals are:
1. To be supplied by 100% renewable energy
2. To create zero waste
3. To sell products that sustain people and the environment
So how does the nation’s largest private employer, and operator of over 8,400 stores worldwide improve its environmental impact? Well, they work from the ground, up.
In an effort to sustain the company using only renewable energy, Walmart devised a new Global Greenhouse Gas Strategy. Smaller goals within this plan include making existing stores 20% more efficient by 2014, and making new stores 30% more efficient by the end of this year. Using these stepping-stones Walmart aims to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the end of 2015. This type of reduction is equivalent to taking 3.8 million cars off the road for a year.
In addition to improving renewable energy use, Walmart also aims to create zero waste. This type of goal requires that Walmart examine all functions of their supply chain, and specifically, they’ve made packaging the cornerstone of this goal. The company started by issuing a 15-question survey to all suppliers, in order to see if suppliers were aware of their GHG emissions, and the amount of waste they were producing. Walmart also asked suppliers to complete a “packaging scorecard” to assess packaging recyclable content, transportation costs, and more. Then, using this data, Walmart was able to hone in on which suppliers were creating the most waste, and to brainstorm changes that Walmart deemed necessary to support their sustainability goals. Initial results of this reevaluation and subsequent changes indicate that improving packaging is critical to Walmart’s goal of zero waste.
-By creating “right size” toy boxes, Walmart saved 3,425 tons of corrugated materials, 1,358 barrels of oil, and 5,190 trees.
-Sam’s Club worked with Apple to redesign the iPod packaging so it is now made with 100% recyclable and sustainable materials.
-Hamburger Helper modified product packaging, which reduced company GHG emissions by 11%, and decreased their transportation fleet by 500 trucks.
Clearly, even in its initial phase, the program is producing positive results. Using these initial results, Walmart hopes to prevent 667,000 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere by continuing to focus on supplier packaging improvements.
Aiming to “sell products that sustain people and the environment” admittedly sounds a bit vague. However upon further investigation of what this goal actually means when put into practice, it’s anything but. Walmart uses this aim to turn their attention on what the company’s sales practices mean for those working in all areas of the supply chain. For example, Walmart has evaluated jewelry suppliers in order to ensure that precious metals are traceable (that is, they are being mined by socially responsible and/or fair trade companies), as well as to encourage more sustainable packaging and transportation. Another way this goal impacts Walmart’s business practices is in its encouragement of CFLs. Walmart made it a goal to sell 100 million CFLs in 2007, a goal that was surpassed by 37 million bulbs. By introducing a “Great Value” (Walmart brand) CFL, and prominently displaying CFLs in stores nationwide, Walmart shows its commitment to helping consumers be sustainable as well.
So what does this all mean for you, as a consumer or potential “green collar” employee? Well it shows that even big box retails that often receive corporate criticism, like Walmart, are steadily moving towards being more sustainable. And even more importantly, this progression to a more sustainable business demands an increasing “green collar” workforce, both within the primary companies, as well as within their supply chain.
Did you know about the measures Walmart is taking to curb its environmental impact? How does that affect your opinion of corporations in general? Have you ever held a “green collar” job for a major retail chain or supplier? Tell us about it in the comments section!