BENTONVILLE, Ark. — As of the end of last month, the “vast majority” of Wal-Mart Stores' largest U.S. suppliers had responded to 15 questions about their sustainability practices as part of the company's effort to develop a new sustainability index for the products it sells, said Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart's senior vice president for sustainability.
Kistler reported on Wal-Mart's progress at the company's Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting at its headquarters here on Nov. 12 and broadcast live over the Internet. He kicked off the meeting, which included presentations on sustainability by numerous Wal-Mart executives, many of them seen on live video feeds from corporate divisions around the U.S. and the world.
The meeting summarized Wal-Mart's recent progress toward its three broad sustainability goals: Using only renewable sources of energy, recycling all of its waste, and selling products that “sustain people and the environment,” said Kistler.
In July, Wal-Mart announced that it has begun developing a sustainability index that it hopes will enable consumers to evaluate the environmental and societal impact of the products it sells.
“Almost all of the suppliers we wanted to work with came forward and answered the 15 questions,” said Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of corporate affairs and government relations. “They are now working with us to engage other suppliers and ultimately other retailers.” The company has also begun asking its private-brand suppliers to answer the same sustainability questions.
Wal-Mart's goal is for the index to become widely embraced, Dach said. “For this to work it needs to be a broad index accepted around the world as a retailer and supplier standard.”
Wal-Mart has already met with Kroger to discuss the index, Kistler said at the Grocery Manufacturers Association Executive Conference in early September.
Dach also referred to Wal-Mart's “direct to farm” program in China, where it is helping more than 200,000 farmers learn to adopt more sustainable agricultural methods. “This is bringing better produce to our stores there at a better price,” he said.
“Sustainable agriculture is something we will work on more in the future,” Dach added. “We have a tremendous ability to help farmers around the world lead a better life, enter the supply chain and middle class, and do it in a way that is more protective of the air and water and the communities in which they operate.”
At the meeting, Wal-Mart also announced several new energy-saving tests being conducted at Sam's Club outlets. For example, solar power pilots are taking place at five Sam's locations, with another three to be added by the end of the year, said Tim Yatsko, senior vice president of replenishment and planning for Wal-Mart. In addition, three tests are being conducted on carbon dioxide refrigeration systems “that we hope will deliver a more ozone-friendly refrigerant while improving the efficiency of our compressors,” said Yatsko.
Sam's is also using radiant flooring at a new high-efficiency prototype that recently opened in Sacramento, Calif. The flooring system receives water cooled on the roof by a cooling tower that uses evaporative cooling.
Elizabeth Fretheim, Wal-Mart's director of business strategy and sustainability for logistics, reported that the company has surpassed its goal of improving fleet efficiency by 25% by 2008. This was accomplished by adopting such measures as “driving miles out of the system and improving cube [space utilization] and aerodynamics,” she said.
“We look for the shortest safest routes and reduce empty miles through backhauls.” Wal-Mart's trailers each carry an average of more than 2,000 cartons, she added.
In Nevada, Wal-Mart has launched a recycling program to convert polystyrene into poster and picture frames that are sold in its stores. “We're planning to expand this program across the U.S. with the potential to recycle hundreds of thousands of pounds of polystyrene into millions of picture frames per year,” said Michael Bender, Phoenix-based regional general manager for Wal-Mart.
In September, Wal-Mart opened its first high-efficiency (HE) prototype store in Canada, in the city of Waterdown near Toronto. The store uses 30% less energy than a conventional store by incorporating LED lighting on the front of the building, low-wattage parking lights, white roofing materials and an energy-recovering ventilation system, among other energy-saving measures.
Wal-Mart's emphasis on sustainability has helped to boost its corporate reputation based on third-party evaluations, said Dach. “The work this company is doing with sustainability is perhaps the major driver of the progress we've seen where people can recognize the value of our size and scale in solving major issues.”