Giant Retailer Wants To Go Green
Wal-Mart says it wants to soften the impact chemicals have on our bodies and waste has on our environment. The big-box retailer is known for quantity not quality so other retailers are sure to notice.
The company is expected to announce an electronic indexing system Thursday to determine the environmental, social and health impact of products on its shelves.
Helping along the way are experts from the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. “I never thought I would be working with Wal-Mart a few years back” says Jay S. Golden, a professor there to the New York Times. But he adds they are thrilled Wal-Mart is taking the lead in moving retailers toward more sustainable products.
The index will help determine how “sustainable” a product is over its lifetime. Sustainability is generally defined as leaving a light footprint on the planet by not depleting resources and having little negative social, health, or environmental impact during its use. The giant retailer will ask more than 100,000 suppliers to provide details about where their product came from and how many hands it passes through before it is ready to be sold.
After gathering information, the University of Arkansas and the University of Arizona will create a database and use a system of metrics to evaluate the product’s impact. The third step would involve translating that information to for that is consumer-friendly.
Wal-Mart would then decide which products to put on its shelves and would not have to rely on promises by the manufacturer about how “green” a product is in the areas of lower emissions, water conservation, or waste reduction, as well as other environmental and social implications.
The Times gives an example - developing a laundry detergent that removes all water the clothing retains to cut down on dryer time as well as water as long as it does not hurt human skin.
“It’s an audacious undertaking — audacious even by Wal-Mart’s standards,” said John Johnson, a professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. “And I think it’s going to be a lot of work for a lot of people. But obviously we’re optimistic about the prospects.”
Shut Out of Shelves
Any supplier that balks at supplying information may find itself shut out of Wal-Mart shelves.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works with businesses to find solutions to environmental degradation. Michelle Harvey of EDF says, “For the people saying ‘I’m not going to share this,’ I think they’ll be building a hurdle for their product to get onto the Wal-Mart shelf.”
The EDF started talking about sustainability with Wal-Mart four years ago with the ambitious goals of:
- Greenhouse gas - This would include stopping or reversing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions through reduced energy in its stores and to reduced greenhouse emissions created by the supply chain and transportation. The goal is to supply stores with 100 percent renewable energy.
- Seafood - Wal-Mart has asked suppliers of fish caught in the wild to meet third party standards for sustainability, EDF says. The group plans to work through the company to reduce the environmental problems with commercial fish farms, which presently supply the bulk of Wal-Mart seafood.
- Packaging - Packaging materials should be redesigned to minimize environmental impacts, such as waste created by plastics. The goal is to create zero waste. Toxic materials in products would be addressed. And with Wal-Mart as the single largest importer of Chinese consumer goods, Wal-Mart has the largesse to drive environmental and factory improvements in that country.
Wal-Mart has 5,300 stores and every week more than 175 million shop there. With $351 in revenue the company is bigger than 160 nations.
The EDF Web site is optimistic, “Given its size and footprint, Wal-Mart can effect huge environmental change. The firm is focusing on global warming, seafood, packaging and toxic materials.” #