In 2005, Walmart was being investigated for Human Rights abuses and their stock market standings were dwindling. With the onset of Hurricane Katrina, they stepped up in an unprecedented way to help their surrounding communities. Since then, Walmart has taken major steps to make their change their perspectives to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
A month ago, a partnership was struck between HSBC and Walmart which will see the retail giant’s suppliers offering financial incentives for meeting or exceeding sustainability targets. This Sustainability Supply Chain Management Programme will allow all of Walmart’s suppliers who are successful in reducing carbon emissions to apply for preferential financing packaging. HSBC in its statement emphasizes the fact that finance is a powerful lever to improve the sustainability of businesses. Project Gigaton is an initiative launched by Walmart to eliminate one million metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from their global chain by 2030. A Sustainability Index is also maintained by Walmart which helps them and their suppliers to understand their strengths and gaps and to identify improvement opportunities in product and supply chain sustainability. All the suppliers’ progress will be mapped against the progress made in Project Gigaton and the Walmart Sustainability Index Programme.
In China, through Project Gigaton, Walmart’s suppliers have reported avoiding 3.46 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the Chinese value chain. Rapid de-carbonization is required all around the world in order to limit global warming to a safe level. In their statements regarding sustainability efforts, Walmart has stated that they want to be a big part of the global solution by working hard to reduce emissions in their operations and supporting reductions across global value chains.
Lee Scott, the man who ran Walmart from 2000 to 2009, wanted to use the retailer’s size, resources and popularity to “make the world a better place for all of us.” To make good on this promise, many executives from the company traversed around the globe to learn and understand better. Scott himself took a trip to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire where scientists were measuring the ice and wind to measure the effects of climate change and air pollution. Other executives visited landfills that were filled with plastic bags from Walmart and visit the Arctic glacier to understand better how glaciers melting were causing sea levels to rise.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Walmart’s efforts overtook even the Government outreach and rehabilitation programs in order to help the affected locals. This was the turning point for them. Once where Walmart was continually criticized by environmental activists, the same people were praising them. Walmart’s sustainability visions were laid out soon after. The straightforward goals were to reduce waste, use renewable energy and sell products that “sustained people and the environment.” Immediate progress was noticed – efficiency of its delivery trucks increased, 28% of its conventional power consumption was converted to renewables, 78% of the global waste in landfills was redirected for recycling or reuse.
One of the major reasons that Walmart’s efforts have made an impact is because they have focused more on suppliers than consumers. They realized that even if customers wished to switch to sustainable products they are not willing to pay more. Hence, they turned their focus on their suppliers to ensure that the process and efforts taken to deliver products to consumers were sustainable without an unwanted increase in price.
Walmart’s efforts show that maintaining a balance between cost and sustainability is difficult but possible. Businesses can play a groundbreaking role in combatting climate change and they need to invest considerable amounts in sustainable efforts. Companies can work together and use their financial might to create a more sustainable future.