GreenSCM: Will Wal-Mart Green Product Labeling Create the New Scarlet Letter?
special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current
article from GreenSCM, a sister publication of Supply Chain Digest, focusing
on environmental issues impacting the supply chain.
am not completely sure yet what is going on with Wal-Mart’s “Sustainability
Index” for suppliers and products, but it makes for some interesting possibilities.
decades ago, for those old enough to remember, Wal-Mart famously led a “Buy
American” charge, spending millions on television ads that often featured Sam
work – Wal-Mart soon found that consumers, in general, wanted low prices more
than they wanted to buy American. The campaign soon ended, and now Wal-Mart
is the world’s largest importer of goods from China.
recently, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other retailers have started to have some
of the products on their shelves marked as being “Green.” My sense is this
has not had much of an impact on consumer behavior. Why? In part, because so
few products yet have the label.
However, Wal-Mart has announced plans for a new Sustainability Index,
which will be created, in part, based on a consortium of various academics,
consultants, suppliers and others offering advice.
to the Wal-Mart web site: “The final step of the index is to provide customers
with product information in a simple, convenient, easy to understand manner
so they can make choices and consume in a more sustainable way. This will provide
customers with greater transparency into the quality and history of products
than they have today. How that information is delivered to consumers is still
between the lines – this means there is likely to be a green score for each
product (although there are huge challenges in doing this accurately and fairly)
sold at Wal-Mart.
this be a small label that can only be read if a consumer gets very close to
the product? Or will it be a prominent score, easily seen on most products
from a distance? The new Scarlet Letter?
imagine if it is the latter – you go to buy a toaster, and there, the cheap
one, has a giant “47” emblazoned in bright green on the side (out of 100).
The more expensive one has a sterling 84 rating.
do you do now? Will your fellow shoppers see that you have opted for the
pollution and C02 generating machine? Even worse, what if someone you know
sees your callous disregard for the environment? Can you cover it up with
bread and milk? Will the cashier scoff at you when you move through checkout?
There is always the self-scan area…
remember in the movie Serial Mom when Kathleen Turner destroys the
credibility of one witness when she accuses her of failing to recycle. The
jury and crowd in the court room gasp in amazement and disgust, and her testimony
against Ms. Turner’s character becomes worthless.
am doing this in a bit of a humorous way, but for consumer goods manufacturers,
this is deadly serious. I, for one, am not wild that Wal-Mart could throw
its market clout around this strongly and, in fairness, there are a lot of
unknowns in how this will play out. To maintain this accurately at a product
level would be a daunting task.
it seems clear that such labeling is coming. The only question is whether
only the consumer will know – or every other shopper in the store as well,
and maybe your neighbors.
Discussion Questions: What’s the likelihood that green rankings
will become akin to a Scarlet Letter for consumer products? What do
you think of Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index? How might Wal-Mart’s green efforts
affect the availability and the guidelines for environmental-friendly