Green leaders get a special place on Walmart.com

Discussion
Feb 27, 2015

Earlier this week, Walmart announced the debut of its Sustainability Leaders shop, a portal on Walmart.com developed to help shoppers find products that are produced in environmentally and socially responsible ways.

The shop comes out of Walmart’s Sustainability Index, which was launched in 2009 with The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), a third-party organization of scientists and organizations focused on creating tools that will lead to more sustainable products being made for the consumer marketplace.

"The Sustainability Leaders shop on Walmart.com is the first step in helping our customers identify which brands and suppliers are leading the way in sustainability," said Neil Ashe, president and CEO of Walmart Global eCommerce, in a statement. "Our customers can trust us to work with suppliers who have an ongoing commitment to both sustainability and affordability."

In all, there are 3,000 products made by 150 companies in Walmart’s Sustainability Leaders shop. Each item is tagged with a badge that reads, "Made by a Sustainability Leader."

Robert Kaplan, director of product sustainability at Walmart, told GreenBiz, that the company looked at its new program as a "tool to inspire a race to the top," adding, "This is about continuous improvement."

While Walmart is publicizing its efforts to contribute to a more sustainable future, the company continues to be criticized for its failure to move more quickly. As reported on The City Wire, Walmart has been accused of greenwashing. The Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) has criticized Walmart for its reliance on coal-fired electricity.

The group cited IKEA and Kohl’s as companies moving aggressively to renewable energy sources. IKEA, for example, has solar panels on the rooftops of 90 percent of its stores in the U.S., including those in states, according to ILSR, where Walmart is reliant on coal for its power.

"Despite making a public commitment to sustainability nine years ago, Walmart still favors dirty coal-generated electricity over solar and wind, because the company insists on using the cheapest power it can find," Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR, told The City Wire.

Will the launch of the Sustainability Leaders shop help to improve Walmart’s image with consumers interested in environmental and social responsibility issues? Do you see Walmart as a sustainability leader or laggard?

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5 Comments on "Green leaders get a special place on Walmart.com"

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Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

The Sustainability Leaders shop is a good idea that will help improve Walmart’s image while helping to educate Walmart shoppers. As always, it would be interesting to see what qualifies a brand as a “Sustainability Leader.”

That being said, it probably makes not only environmental, but also long-term fiscal sense for Walmart to start investing in solar and wind power. Coal will not be getting any cheaper or more popular in the coming years.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

My first question is “How many Walmart shoppers are really interested in sustainability?” I don’t know, but I doubt that it’s at the top of the list for shopping the brand.

Sustainability and green are not exactly the same thing, but when many of the featured products include bleached paper, synthetic chemicals and polyethylene bags, it’s hard to see sustainability. It looks a lot like greenwashing.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Walmart has unquestionably been a sustainability leader in retail and it’s nice to hear a bit of throat-clearing in that regard. Under c-suite champion Lee Scott, Walmart stepped way out in sustainability and should do everything possible to maintain the momentum. The timing is right, particularly as Target threatens to steal a bit of thunder through its expansion of the “Made to Matter” program.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Yes. However, so much of what Walmart does is NOT green that it will take a long time for this impact to be embraced organization-wide. How it will impact the broader spectrum of suppliers is even more dubious.

Gib Bassett
BrainTrust

I think so, but time will tell since the good moves must be balanced with public perception given the other issues raised in this article. Given the visibility of green initiatives in the public sphere, it’s difficult to achieve the full benefit of goodwill with areas of the business not in alignment with public company policies. I do think though that making moves in this direction is beneficial versus doing nothing. Longer term, it’s probably wise to align as much of your business and supply chain with your sustainability initiatives. Same for both retailers and their supplier partners.

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