Walmart hosted its fourth annual Sustainable Packaging Exposition last week as part of the retailing giant's ongoing effort to achieve sustainability goals established in 2005 by former CEO Lee Scott.
Setting an ambitious pace, the largest U.S. retailer says it anticipates hitting zero waste next year in the United Kingdom and by 2025 in the United States. Other objectives on the company's wish list include reducing the amount of packaging in its supply chain by 5 percent by 2013, and using 100 percent renewable energy. To that end, Walmart has committed to purchasing wind power to supply 15 percent of the electricity used in 350 of its Texas stores. Plus, it will install solar panels on up to 20 stores in California.
"What we are finding is that everyone along the line benefits from sustainability," said Kory Lundberg, a Walmart representative. "Recycled materials cost less and lower suppliers' costs; eliminating waste lowers our costs. And all of this benefits our business model—to provide customers with lower prices."
Such grand plans pack large-scale impacts, but where do Walmart's green initiatives leave smaller companies that don't have the resources, flexibility or capital to implement such sweeping energy and waste-saving agendas? And should independent natural products retailers be doing more?
"Every sustainability initiative is good," said Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association. "Obviously the mom-and-pop stores don't have Walmart-size resources to implement green initiatives, but they don't have the same carbon footprint either."
What's more, there may be reason to be optimistic. "I don't think Walmart's [green initiatives] are threats to the naturals retailers," Fabricant said. "If anything, it's encouraging because we're traversing the barriers when it comes to sustainability and sustainable products."