Walmart: Repurposing the Supply Chain
Backstory: Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, with over 7,800 stores, has been working steadily to improve sustainability. From installing green roofs to rolling out a more efficient trucking fleet, the company has moved forward internally, but now it is bringing its suppliers along.
Challenge: How do you green the supply chain?
Key moves: Wal-Mart has been pushing sustainability since adopting the strategy in 2005, establishing goals of being 100% fueled by renewable energy, producing zero waste and selling products that will sustain the environment.
So how does that happen? In one famous example, the company began working with Unilever plc in 2005 to sell concentrated laundry detergent in a 32-ounce container (equivalent to 100 ounces under a previous formulation). Consumers got a more powerful detergent in a smaller package. Three years after rollout, the new container had saved 80
million pounds of plastic resin, 430 million gallons of water and 125 million pounds of cardboard, according to a company fact sheet. More importantly, it became an industry standard, prompting other packaged goods companies to switch to concentrated detergent as well.
Wal-Mart’s zero waste initiative is also moving forward. The company, which is aiming to eliminate all its landfill waste by 2025, was able to reduce waste by 57% between 2008 and 2009. It did so by improving inventory management, increasing donations and ramping up recycling (including 25 billion pounds of cardboard). Now it is striving to push these criteria down into the supply chain on a three-stage path. First, it wants suppliers to rate their products on sustainability criteria. Second, it wants to
gather data on product life cycles. Third, it is creating a sustainability index that will increase transparency for the consumer.
The first initiative, rolled out earlier this year, involves a questionnaire sent to more than 100,000 suppliers. It polls them on four categories: their energy and greenhouse gas emissions, waste and quality initiatives, “responsibly sourced” materials and ethical production. Products are also being measured through their life cycles. Collaborating with academics, retailers, NGOs, suppliers and government in a consortium, Wal-Mart’s goal is to build a global database of product information. As environmental business consultant Joel Makower wrote on his blog, http://makower.typepad.com, “the consortium’s mandate is to focus on how to evaluate products, which Wal-Mart hopes will become the basis for standards, ratings, or other product-level evaluations that it would use in its stores.” That data will be used to develop an index consumers can use to evaluate products, though it’s still unclear how that information will be measured and presented. Nor is there a timeline for rolling out such an index. Impact: Wal-Mart wants its sustainability index to be open to all, becoming a standard to measure and communicate the green credentials of a product and thus becoming “a tool for sustainable consumption.” In the process, the exercise of measurement itself may reap rewards in more efficient production, less waste and lower emissions — all of which are also cost-saving measures.
Q1. Do you think that the customers in times to one would look out for a sustainability
index of products before buying them? ( 150 – 200 words)
Q2. Imagine you are working for one of the competing firms of Walmart (Carrefour,
Panda, Nesto etc.) in Saudi Arabia? How would you react to these initiatives from
Walmart? Would you go on and try to follow the lead or would you wait and watch? ( 150 – 200 words )