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Walmart pushes sustainability down the supply chain

Who needs global governments to stop global warming and save the world? Walmart tomorrow will announce plans to bring retailers, manufacturers and suppliers in a "race to the top" to bring greater sustainability to consumer packaged goods worldwide.

Walmart, the world's leading retailer with nearly half a trillion dollars in annual sales worldwide, is leading the initiative to develop and introduce a "sustainability index" on every product on store shelves.

In about two years, labels will appear on every Walmart product that will help consumers make more eco-ethical purchase decisions.

"Suppliers can use the scorecard to measure how their product packaging helps us achieve, meet or exceed our goals of being supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, creating zero waste and selling environmentally preferable products," said Matt Kistler, Walmart's sustainability leader.

The company famously puts pressure on suppliers to help keep consumer costs low. An estimated 60,000 suppliers will be asked 16 questions — if they have measured their greenhouse gas emissions, set public targets for reducing waste, tracked the origin of the things they make and managed social compliance at their factories.

"We developed the questions with input from suppliers, academia, nonprofit organizations, government, and the retail community," said Kistler. "The questions come from our discovery that taking steps to measure sustainability impacts, and setting targets to reduce those impacts lead to reduced waste and costs, as well as innovation and new revenue streams. To that end, measurement and transparency into the supply chain is the focus of these initial questions."

Walmart has enlisted competitors like Costco and Target, consumer packaged good manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson, academics and non-governmental organisations in the effort. Its goal is to shepherd the initiative throughout the global community but to not itself police it.

Its Life Cycle Assessment tool will measure suppliers' production, shipping, use and disposal values.

Sustainability, it seems, is not just a feel-good thing but an actual money-maker. Walmart's UK stores have reduced the weight of its food packaging by 25 per cent compared to a 2005 baseline. In the US, it is aiming to eliminate PVC from its private-label packaging. If you're looking to get into Walmart, GMPs are only a tiny part of the lifting that will be required of you.

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