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Walmart asks suppliers to help it reach sustainability goals

Nearly five years ago, Walmart's introduction of a packaging scorecard forced the entire supply chain of the world's largest retailer to reexamine everything about their products' packaging from where and how it was made to what it was made with. For those who doubted that Big Box's resolve to tackle wasteful packaging, the scorecard is in its third iteration and the retailer's conviction that it, the companies it works with, and even its retail challengers continuously strive towards more sustainable operations is unwavering.

Nearly five years ago, Walmart's introduction of a packaging scorecard forced the entire supply chain of the world's largest retailer to reexamine everything about their products' packaging from where and how it was made to what it was made with. For those who doubted that Big Box's resolve to tackle wasteful packaging, the scorecard is in its third iteration and the retailer's conviction that it, the companies it works with, and even its retail challengers continuously strive towards more sustainable operations is unwavering.

"We will collaborate with anyone," Dave Cheesewright, president and CEO of Walmart Canada told the overflow crowd at the company's 5th Sustainable Packaging Conference (June 22; Toronto Congress Centre). "We will share anything we've done on sustainability, competitor or not."

Held in conjunction with Packex Toronto (June 21-23; Toronto Congress Centre), the conference featured speakers from Walmart's suppliers and its suppliers' suppliers, including Procter & Gamble and Dow Chemical, among others. Cheesewright and other leaders from Walmart's Canadian operation walked through some of the commitments the company has made towards more sustainable operations.

Jeff Rice, director of sustainability at Walmart, said the company's emphasis on sustainability did not go away when Mike Duke replaced Lee Scott at the head of the company in November 2008, with Rice quoting Duke when he said the company will "never look back" from its sustainability push.

Supply chain, sustainability interlocked

Rice said that although Walmart, and its 9005 stores (4418 in the U.S.) are doing what they can to limit their environmental impact, including work towards 100% renewable energy supply and zero waste, its commitment to more sustainable operations is dramatically impacted by its supply base, with the company's own studies showing that roughly 90% of its global footprint comes from its suppliers. 

The company utilizes what it calls a Supplier Sustainability Assessment to see just how large the impact is. The 15-question evaluation is not life-cycle analysis based, rather it asks companies on a basic level if they, and the companies they buy from, have measured and taken steps to reduce their corporate greenhouse gas emissions. The questions are split among four categories, including energy and climate (four questions), material efficiency (four questions), nature and resource (two questions), and people and community (five questions).

 "Who's selling to us, where are they located?" Rice said, saying its supplier should ask their suppliers the same questions. "We're a relatively large company," Rice added with a knowing awareness of his understatement and the implications of every individual company in its massive supply chain evaluating their impact on the planet all along the line. In the end, Rice said the company's interim goal is to eliminate 20 million tonnes of green house gases from its global supply chain by the end of 2015. Given that its supply chain is also relatively large, it seems an attainable goal.

Walmart Canada's Balzac, Alberta fresh food center
Walmart Canada's new Balzac fresh food center in Alberta generates all its energy from solar and wind power, features LED lighting on the interior, and has the goal to be 100% zero waste. Right now it sits at 91-92%.
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