In news that will change the worldwide business climate, Walmart, at its Sustainability Milestone Meeting, unveiled a new sustainability index that will rank products based upon their sustainable attributes.
The index is being created in partnership with Arizona State University, the University of Arkansas, The Sustainability Consortium, a partnership of university-based researchers, businesses, non-government organizations and governmental agencies for which Walmart is supplying initial funding.
The Consortium will design and develop the index to quantify the impacts of products through their lifecycles, from raw materials to recycling, or the landfill. This science-based, open-source, product-lifecycle assessment will generate standardized sustainability rankings that consumers can weigh when making purchasing decisions, according to a prepared statement by The Consortium.
Supermarket Guru and retail commentator, Phil Lempert, said that while defining sustainability and quantifying its parts might prove challenging, Walmart's and The Consortium's efforts will most likely set a new universal standard.
"It also puts sustainability front and center and adds much welcomed momentum to the effort," he said. And, while he said the index won't eclipse organic and fair trade, naturals stores might see their leadership on environmental issues diminish.
"The new movement goes well beyond natural food stores and is now mainstream," Lempert said.
The first step in developing the index is a 15-question survey Walmart is asking "top-tier" U.S. suppliers to complete by Oct. 1. Timelines for global compliance are not yet settled. The survey investigates energy and climate, natural resource, material efficiency and people and community issues. The second step will be creation of a global database of product lifecycle information, which, in step three, consumers may use when shopping.
In a company release, Walmart President and CEO Mike Duke said the initiative can lower costs, raise quality and help customers save money.
"I believe this initiative will allow us to build on all we've already accomplished together," he said. "And it will enable us to get ahead of several shifts that are changing our businesses and our world."
Lempert said he foresees little difficulty insuring quality information from Walmart suppliers.
"Not with Walmart spearheading," he said. "Cheat and lose Walmart as customer. No one will dare."