Walmart announced last week the company could save as much as $150 million during the company’s 2013 fiscal year due to several of its sustainability programs. The announcement, which the world’s largest retailer made during its annual meeting for the investor community, came while Walmart celebrated its 50th anniversary. The amount of money the company will save could catch the attention of other companies who are still slow to embed sustainability within their overall strategies–even if the company’s beleaguered store employees, or “associates,” will not financially benefit from the company’s cost savings.
The announcement builds on Walmart’s recent achievements on reducing costs throughout its supply chain and operations. For example, by expanding waste diversion and recycling programs, Walmart reported it saved $231 million alone last year. Meanwhile the retailer has expanded solar and wind power generation at various sites across the United States.
Many companies announce that occasional token solar installation or green roof as a move to score some corporate social responsibility points in the good name of public relations. Walmart’s slow but steady commitment to sustainability, however, is an exciting one because of its potential in scope. With the scope of its stores and distribution centers, Walmart’s continued investment in clean energy and now green roofs can help the company both reduce its overall environmental footprint and help lower the cost of these technologies.
And Walmart’s sustainability efforts are not only occurring in the United States. The company’s stores in Brazil have reduced waste and costs by slashing plastic bag use by about 50 percent. In the United Kingdom, ASDA stores have ceased sending food waste into local landfills.
Much of the criticism of Walmart comes from the company’s harsh demands on its suppliers to keep costs down, which reduces suppliers’ margins while challenging them to churn out more environmentally responsible products. Now that burden is moving to Walmart’s internal operations. As Bloomberg reports, sustainability performance now affects how the company evaluates the buyers who make the multimillion dollar purchasing decisions that lead to how the stores’ shelves are stocked and rewards them for more sustainable decisions.
A company of Walmart’s size is in a unique position to encourage the scale of more environmentally responsible products, which would help bring the overall costs of such goods down and at the same time help Walmart realize additional financial savings. So despite the constant criticism, Walmart’s seven-year focus on sustainability has continued to move in the right direction; now if only the company could improve the lot many of its employees, increased social responsibility could also help the company boost its reputation and save money by reducing turnover and boosting productivity. It is time for Walmart to start improving the treatment of its own people the way in which the company is ameliorating its impact on land, water and climate.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.
Photo courtesy Walmart Green Room.