Walmart Releases 2010 Sustainability Report

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, released its third annual Sustainability Report Wednesday. The report outlines the company’s progress in a range of social responsibility measures, including energy efficiency, emissions reductions and labor conditions.

Of particular emphasis this year is the global nature of Walmart’s sustainability efforts. The report includes extensive information on sustainability goals overseas, as well as obstacles in each major geographic area.

The 45 page document is less than half the length of last year’s, but still feels like a lot of information, a smorgasbord of positive developments (some more meaningful than others) mixed in with hard data.

Of most interest to sustainability professionals is the last third of the document, which breaks down on a case-by-case basis improvements on certain benchmarks, such as fleet efficiency and the number of prototype energy-efficient superstores, which use about 30 percent less energy.

Walmart began to seriously address sustainability in 2005, and has been recognized internationally for the sincerity of its commitment. Walmart’s sustainability efforts have also given the corporate behemoth a cushion of goodwill with the news media and the public, a major turn-about from earlier this decade.

Of note, the company increased fleet efficiency 60 percent over a 2005 baseline and designed and opened energy efficient HE superstores in all international markets.

On one of its most ambitious goals, improving energy efficiency at its top 200 Chinese factories by 20 percent by 2012, the company has made only middling progress, improving efficiency 5 percent at 119. The company also continues to wait for a suitable alternative to PVC plastic, which it had previously hoped to eliminate by 2007.

Similarly incomplete is Walmart’s claims on packaging. According to the report, the company is awaiting the finalizing of a scorecard metric used to analyze all products sold at Walmart and Sam’s Clubs.

Walmart’s total CO2 emissions continue to rise, to over 20 million metric tons in 2008, but on a per-sales basis they have fallen every year since 2005. The company had $405 billion in net sales last year.

Elizabeth Strucken of the Environmental Defense Fund, writing in, praised the company for its honesty, especially in admitting where it needs to try harder. Strucken also the company needs to do more in reducing waste, including in packaging.

Reporting progress in context is also important, she wrote. Strucken called Walmart’s claim that 29 percent of detergents in Central America are phosphate-free “meaningless” without context.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.