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Walmart’s Sustainable Product Expo – Has a Tipping Point Been Reached?

At the end of last month, Walmart held its first ever Sustainable Product Expo with the aim of using their massive influence and power to accelerate innovation in the supply chain, sustainable agriculture and recycling.  The world’s largest retailer, Walmart employs over 2 million people worldwide (and has come over repeated criticism for low pay of its workers) and in 2012 generated sales of a staggering $443.9 billion, so if anyone has the power to influence positive change on a global scale, it’s the behemoth that is Walmart.   Read more mind-boggling facts on Walmart here.

In true Walmart ‘go big or go home’ style, they started from the top with this expo and brought together CEOs from more than a dozen global companies with the aim of getting these companies to sign up to a number of measures across the core areas of concern.

The results are impressive – on paper at least.  For example, Kellogg committed to ‘promoting and supporting initiatives with growers that will, by 2020, lead to a 25 percent increase in the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture practices. This will improve smallholder livelihoods, enhance grower resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.’  For their part, PepsiCo has agreed to collaborate with Walmart in the use of sustainable farming practices ‘including of environmental, social and economic sustainability.’

While this is exhilarating stuff from an environmental point of view, it is, of course, a response to changing market conditions that the current business model is ill-equipped to cope with.  The rapidly expanding global population is one major challenge – as Walmart says, “The United Nations estimates food production must increase by roughly 70 percent to feed the estimated 9.6 billion people who will inhabit the planet by 2050.’

But for the sustainability movement, this tying together of economic realities with environmental concerns might, I hope, mark a real tipping point.  The focus on innovation in supply chain, agriculture and recycling means a focus on innovation in utilities, clean energy and myriad other sectors – technology can truly lead the way with the support of these global companies.

Of course, Walmart has not forgotten the role their millions of customers can play in this initiative, and plan to introduce a ‘sustainability store’ to walmart.com which will allow shoppers to easily identify and select ‘sustainability-friendly’ products.  This too is an important step in terms of making these products more accessible and also in changing the perception of sustainable products and sustainability in general as something ‘other’ and not part of everyday life.  It’s my hope that within several years, a separate ‘sustainability store’ will not be required, and that the great majority of products on sale at Walmart and its competitors will, by market demand and technological innovation, all be sustainable stars.

As ever, for more information on how your business can adopt sustainability best practices, please get in touch!


 

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