Five years ago, Walmart declared they would take on ambitious sustainability objectives: creating zero waste, being supplied by 100% renewable energy, and selling products that sustain people and the environment. However, only four out of their 39 public sustainability goals deal directly with food. Beth Keck, Senior Director of Sustainability at Walmart, admits in a recent guest post on Treehugger, “While grocery sales make up more than half our business, we haven’t focused enough of our sustainability efforts toward the food we sell.”
Walmart revealed their new global sustainable agriculture goals on October 14th, pronouncing three major foci to “support farmers and their communities, produce more food with less waste and fewer resources, and sustainably source key agricultural products,” all of which is to be achieved by the end of 2015.
Aquaculture is a key component not to be overlooked amidst these global initiatives. Walmart Canada broadcast in March that it will only sell MSC certified seafood by the end of 2013. Walmart Argentina will source from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries in the San Matius Gulf, raising the amount of sustainably sourced seafood by ten percent each year and will only purchase whole fish that meet minimum sizes recommended by collaborating NGOs. Meanwhile, their Central American market will purchase 100 percent of farmed fish from sources that are Best Aquatic Practices (BAP) certified or sources that meet the equivalent certification by 2015.
In the United States, Walmart announced in a 2006 press release its goal of purchasing 100 percent wild-caught and frozen fish for domestic Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs from fisheries that have received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification within the next three to five years (end of 2011). Walmart’s Global Sustainability Report 2010 Progress Update states that only 55% of the seafood sold in U.S. Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs carry the MSC label. This means Walmart will have roughly one year to have the remaining 45 percent of fisheries certified.
MSC is an independent non-profit organization that encourages solutions to over-fishing and promotes sustainable seafood through their blue eco-label. The 2011 timeline will have given those fisheries not yet certified by MSC three to five years to create transition plans, regularly report to Walmart on their progress and become certified. Walmart says they will no longer buy from those who fail to follow the deadlines outlined in their own plans toward certification.
In 2005, Walmart publicized the goal to “work with the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and Aquaculture Certification Council, Inc. (ACC) to certify that all foreign shrimp suppliers adhere to Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standards in the U.S. by 2011.” Having accomplished this goal according to the progress update, now 100 percent of farmed shrimp products purchased meet the ACC factory processing criteria. They claim to be in the process of making all catfish, tilapia and salmon farms meet ACC certification as well.
Greenpeace ranks Walmart 9th behind Target, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Safeway and others on their Supermarket Seafood Sustainability Scorecard. In their Carting Away the Oceans report 2010 update, Greenpeace’s survey found the company had not made progress in any of their measured categories since 2009. The report states, “This is a particularly worrying development due to the retailer’s immense size and its tremendous draw on the world’s fishery and aquaculture resources. Wal-Mart’s creation of a comprehensive sustainable seafood policy was a positive step, but its reliance on certification systems that certify species like Chilean sea bass and hoki is problematic.” The report, updated in April 2010, goes on to say that Walmart sells twelve out of twenty-two of Greenpeace’s International Seafood Red list of species that are at a high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries. The report does note positively that Walmart has discontinued purchasing red snapper, orange roughy, yellow fin and albacore tuna, and fresh and frozen redfish.
Walmart’s broader sustainable seafood initiatives to support healthy fisheries management, rebuild fish stocks, and protect marine ecosystems include partnerships with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Conservation International (CI), and the Alaskan salmon industry for wild caught seafood. Considering these collaborations, organizations like Greenpeace aiming to hold supermarkets like Walmart accountable, and consumer pressure to be transparent about sustainable food sourcing, optimists can only hope that Walmart will be able to meet their various international and domestic sustainable seafood initiative deadlines. But as they say, only time will tell.
As the world’s largest grocer, and thus controller of one of the world’s largest seafood supply chains, Walmart is well-positioned — and holds a great responsibility — to have a significant impact on the global development of robust sustainable seafood systems.
To learn more, check out this Walmart Sustainability 2.0 – Seafood video:
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