Gauging Green at Wal-Mart

In addition to milk and other ingredients, a lot of thought has gone into Wal-Mart's Great Value all-natural sour cream. So much thought, in fact, that after close collaboration with its dairy supplier partners, Wal-Mart launched 12 sustainability initiatives estimated to save about $250 million. One of the projects involves use of a methane digester that turns manure from cows that produce milk for

In addition to milk and other ingredients, a lot of thought has gone into Wal-Mart's Great Value all-natural sour cream.

So much thought, in fact, that after close collaboration with its dairy supplier partners, Wal-Mart launched 12 sustainability initiatives estimated to save about $250 million.

One of the projects involves use of a methane digester that turns manure from cows — that produce milk for the sour cream — into electricity.

In addition to saving supplier Twin Birch Dairy $12,000 a month in electricity costs, the system prevents methane gas — which has a greater collective impact on global warming than all the tailpipes on earth — from entering the atmosphere.

“Imagine a world where cows are producing the milk for Wal-Mart, plus producing the electricity to cool the milk at Wal-Mart, and provide the lighting and all the electricity for Wal-Mart,” said Dirk Young, manager for Twin Birch Dairy, Skaneateles, N.Y., on a video featured on walmartstores.com [4].

Stories like these will only work in Wal-Mart's favor. But since fitting them on a small sour cream container is nearly impossible, Wal-Mart is taking a different approach. It's working to spur the development of a “sustainability index” to help shoppers gauge the environmental and societal impact of the products it sells.

How the information is delivered to shoppers is yet to be determined, but it could take the form of a numeric score, color code or some other type of label, according to Wal-Mart.

It's putting together a consortium of universities that would work with suppliers, government and non-government agencies for the creation of the database.

To get the ball rolling, it's also sent a poll to its largest U.S. suppliers that asks 15 questions about their sustainability practices. It's due back Oct. 1.