Green Business: Walmart’s Sustainability Report

In a passionate opinion piece, GreenBiz editor Senior Editor Marc Gunther examines Walmart’s just-released 2012 sustainability report and asks: Is it good enough?

I’ll add: Is it the right way to go?


How Much of a Difference Can Walmart Really Make?

Read the report, and I think you’ll agree that Walmart is “greener” and more responsible than it used to be (that’s Duke’s claim), that the company does a lot of good (by delivering value to its customers and providing employment to 1.4 million people in the U.S. alone) and that it is a powerful driver of efficiency throughout the global economy (that’s at the core of Walmart’s business model, and its peculiar genius as a company).

And yet.

As I read the report, I was reminded of that even Walmart — which is arguably the world’s most powerful company — can only go so far when it comes to protecting the planet.

Gunther gives Walmart well-deserved praise for its ambitious, far-reaching improvements in 10 focus areas last year:

  • *Reduced waste by 80 percent
  • *Expanded locally grown produce (up by 97 percent)
  • *Pledged to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S.
  • *Saved customers $1 billion on fresh fruits and vegetables
  • *Announced a “Great for you” icon that will help shoppers identify healthier food items.

Not to take anything away from these accomplishments, but I think Walmart benefits this year from the fast-start and low-hanging fruit.

If you double your locally sourced produce from none to one, that’s a 100% increase.

And what’s more, Gunther reminds us to keep an eye on the ball: the carbon emissions ball. For all the Walmart is doing business better, it’s doing more business and increasing its overall global carbon impact with each CFL bulb it sells.

Gunther says that the power to change Walmart’s course ultimately rests with us–not as consumers, but as engaged citizens.

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