The Two Faces of Walmart

By Jamie Sand-Goldberger

According to a McKinsey Corporate survey, 92 percent of senior executives from around the world agree that consideration of environmental challenges will be one of the central issues of the 21st century.  Successful firms are realizing that cognizance around environmental values is saving them money and improving shareholder performance, so much so that even large low-cost retailers like Walmart are getting in the game.  But at what expense?

As the world’s largest retailer covering nearly every product category, Walmart has the potential to impact green retailing practices.  To that end, in the last several years, Walmart has been determined to use that influence in a positive way.  By focusing on a “zero waste” policy, Walmart has reduced packaging and shipping materials waste and launched recycling initiatives in order lessen the impact on local landfills and limit their dependency on non-renewable resources.  They are committed to offering more socially and environmentally conscious product lines for items such as coffee, bananas and wine, as well as locally grown produce in support of regional farming efforts.  Walmart has even gone as far as leveraging its buying power against manufacturers in China, mandating that they become 20 percent more energy efficient by 2011 in order to maintain their contracts.

This is of course great news; putting pressure on international manufacturers will be critical to the green movement’s momentum and may help to influence other retailers with similar positioning to weld their power in kind. Yet unfortunately, much of Walmart’s efforts towards incorporating sustainability efforts have been overshadowed by the negative publicity surrounding other aspects of their business. Aside from being referred to as “Sweatshop Retailer of the Year” by many watchdog groups, Walmart has been criticized for a variety of personnel practices, including policies surrounding wages, benefits, employment of illegal aliens and strong dependence on foreign labor for imported goods.

In truth, Walmart is not the first, and will not be the last, mass retailer or major corporation to struggle with reconciling both sides of the corporate social responsibility agenda. However, these public criticisms may serve as a catalyst for firms like Walmart to examine their entire value chains more holistically.  Developing and implementing a socially conscious human resource approach is challenging, but it is likely that some of the existing sustainability strategies can be adapted so people and planet are not mutually exclusive.

Walmart’s progress, and potential areas for socially responsible growth, has opened new channels of conversation about how these practices should go hand-in-hand.  Hopefully this corporate dialogue will facilitate opportunities for innovations that will both improve both the quality of what’s on the retail shelves and the lives of the people stocking them.

For the original article click here.

Jamie Sand-Goldberger is a Marketing Consultant for Sequoia Lab, a boutique consulting firm powered by the strength and reach of the Sequoia tree. We partner with companies to create innovative, profitable, and sustainable business models and build brands that speak to a new generation because they are intelligently grounded, full of energy and inspiring in their reach.

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