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Jen Boynton headshot

Walmart Unveils Virtual Sustainability Shop

By Jen Boynton

It's about to get a lot easier for Walmart.com shoppers to make the responsible choice. On the heels of last week's jaw-dropping commitment to increase wages for Walmart employees, the retailer announced this morning at the Walmart Milestone Meeting that it will now be highlighting the 10,000 "best in class" sustainable products across 80 categories as Sustainability Leaders. That means that shoppers looking for anything from soap to printer ink can easily see which product is the most responsible by looking for the Sustainable Leaders badge.

Sustainable, how? You might ask. In 2009 Walmart.com worked with the Sustainability Consortium (TSC) to create supplier scorecards to rank suppliers and encourage them to improve operations and become more sustainable -- by using energy more efficiently or increasing the recycled content of their products. After tackling suppliers and incentivizing corporate buyers to choose the products that scored well, Walmart is on to the final challenge in the list: consumer education. Through the Sustainable Leaders program, Walmart will be highlighting the environmental leaders in every product category. Customers who want to know the details, what makes each Sustainable Leader qualify, can click through to read about TSC's process and criteria. Go a click further and they can see fact sheets like this one on polyester textiles, which describes what TSC looks for from product manufacturers.

Rob Kaplan, Director of Sustainability at Walmart, told me that Walmart's biggest priority with the new project was to make it easy for consumers to make a good choice. "Consumers say they care about sustainability, but we on the retailer side don't always make it clear and easy to make sustainable choices." Companies that are considered best in class will now get highlighted on Walmart.com, and products made by those companies will get a badge signifying them as Sustainable Leaders. Customers can also filter for sustainability when they are searching for a product.

While this product promotion is only happening at Walmart.com (not in the stores just yet), Kaplan indicated that if it were successful the company would consider rolling it out in the brick and mortar stores. "We have a history of rolling out new campaigns online first," he explained, citing the retailers Made in USA and women-owned designations for products. I looked around for these products myself and found the Made in USA selections easy to uncover, but the women-owned designation was well hidden or perhaps defunct at Walmart.com.

Sustainability has certainly become a competitive advantage for even the big box retailers. Target launched the Made to Matter collection last year to highlights organic and sustainable food and cleaning products among other things. The products have been selling well, and Target recently announced that it would be doubling the number of products in the program. When I asked Kaplan how the Sustainability Leaders program  compared with Target's Made to Matter, he chuckled and said "I can tell you what I'm excited about with this program." He went on to describe the fact that Walmart's program is focus on highlighting the brands and products that are already familiar to customers. The Walmart program, he explained, focuses on affordability and making sustainability mainstream.

 Images from Walmart.com screenshots 

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Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton