Ready to comb through Walmart’s 2012 Global Responsibility Report? The past year has been a bumpy one for Walmart’s sustainability agenda. On one hand, the retail giant has made strides with its renewable energy agenda from Colorado to Louisiana, local food sourcing and employee engagement. The company’s critics counter that what Walmart is promising is falling far short of the company’s actual performance. Edwards Hume’s book, Force of Nature, sums up what many observers think about Walmart: the strides are impressive but in the end, whether Walmart is really a “sustainable company” is questionable. The truth, in fact, is quite nuanced.
To that end, Walmart’s critics and fans should take a look at Walmart’s 2012 Global Responsibility Report just released this morning.
Some of the highlights include:
Clean Energy: Walmart has set an ambitious long term goal of running its U.S. stores and distribution centers on 100 percent renewable energy. The goal is not only ambitious because of its size, but because of cost. To install solar panels on all of its properties now would spike prices so high that Walmart would have to raise prices that would in turn dent the company’s profits. So Walmart has moved incrementally, and just last week hit a milestone with its 100th solar installation in Colorado. Walmart stores in Canada and China completed their first solar installation as well. So far the clean energy Walmart uses to power its stores, which is about 22 percent of the company’s electricity needs, is enough to fuel 78,000 American homes annually. While the company has a long way to go to hit that goal in eight years, a dose of perspective is needed. Walmart is the second largest buyer of clean energy among U.S retailers and is the second largest onsite generator of renewables in the U.S.
Waste Diversion: What critics sniff at as the largest seller of cheap goods is paradoxically edging closer to a zero waste company. To date Walmart U.S. prevents 80 percent of its operational waste out of landfills. Reusable bags are not the norm yet, but Walmart has cut plastic bag waste by 35 percent since 2007. Across the Pacific in Japan, Walmart now has 100 stores that achieved a 100 percent recycle status. Meanwhile stores in China and the United Kingdom have decreased the amount of food waste by either composting or donating to charities. Walmart’s aggressive zero landfill waste program has paid dividends with $231 million returned to the business in 2011.
Local Food: Walmart’s rise to becoming the world’s largest retailer in part stems from its formidable logistics capabilities, from RFID tags to an agile trucking fleet. But the absurdity of hauling food long distances has resonated within the company, so now the big box store is starting to buy from small farms. Last year, Walmart almost doubled the amount of locally-sourced produce sold in the U.S., which accounts for 10 percent of all produce bought at its stores.
There is more to Walmart’s sustainability and corporate responsibility initiatives, from philanthropy to supply chain diversity. The company has committed to sourcing $20 billion worth of goods from women-owned businesses. The company’s foundation has given millions of dollars to women’s advocacy groups including Vital Voices. A new Sustainability Index has been integrated within the company’s business to evaluate and improve the sustainability performance of the company’s products. Both stores and the c-suites are becoming more diverse. And long after Hurricane Katrina, the company has built on its legacy as a disaster assistance organization by contributing to relief efforts in Japan and Jopin, MO.
Walmart’s executives will host a live webcast this Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. PST (11:00 a.m. EST) to shine more light on the company’s sustainability achievements and future goals. Watch for the conversation to continue on Walmart’s Green Room portal.
Photo courtesy of Walmart.