I write from a quarterly meeting of Wal-Mart managers and execs, focused on implementing CEO H. Lee Scott’s eco-friendly vision. (For more on that vision, see my interview with Scott.)
I never dreamed I’d find myself feeling anything but depressed after a day of immersive conference activities at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. But now that I’m here, I’m feeling decidedly optimistic.
Granted, I was a tad creeped out when the 800-plus members of the audience erupted in a Wal-Mart chant that involved much gesticulating, grunting, sky-punching, and the like. ("Give me a W … A … L … etc. … What does that spell? … Who do we love? …")
But generally speaking, there’s a lot of hopeful news to report. More details will be forthcoming in next week’s Muckraker, but here’s a snapshot with a few highlights:
I’ve talked to directors of packaging, produce, logistics and transportation, construction, jewelry, apparel, and beyond, all surprisingly savvy and knowledgeable about sustainability within their divisions.
There’s a huge focus on supply chain: Wal-Mart’s leaders have acknowledged that "90 percent of the impact Wal-Mart can have is on the supply chain." They have recognized that while Wal-Mart is responsible for roughly 20 million metric tons of CO2 a year, there are 200 million tons of annual greenhouse-gas emissions in their supply chain — a level of transparency that no company I’ve covered to date has offered.
The produce director is moving toward more local farm purchases in order to save money on truck fuel costs and refrigeration. Moving away from selling monoculture produce at all stores to more diversity in produce based on region (instead of Yukon potatoes at every store, dozens of different potato varieties at different stores depending on what’s local). Said the produce director, "Our whole focus is: How can we reduce food miles?" He predicts a big resurgence of locally produced farm products in coming decades (not necessarily family farms, but locally produced nevertheless).
The jewelry division is moving toward working only with sustainably certified gold mines, and producing Wal-Mart jewelry with recycled gold. Also, consolidating jewelry shipping to reduce energy.
In transportation, they’re looking to double the efficiency of their truck fleet by 2015, and bring hybrid-diesel trucks into their fleet.
In packaging, Wal-Mart is moving toward the use of reusable plastic containers instead of cardboard, and biodegradable corn-based packaging, with the aim of a zero-waste stream by 2025.
Of course, these are all goals, not accomplishments. We’ll see over the coming years how their performance measures up to their talk.
As I write, the execs are all watching An Inconvenient Truth, and Al Gore is due on stage to address the crowd afterward. I’m off to see what the nation’s most high-profile enviro has to say to the world’s most mondo retailer.
Tune into Muckraker next week for more …