After announcing their dedication to sustainability in 2005 – and subsequently pumping out hundreds of press releases promoting their green initiatives – Walmart found itself in a strange position: It ranked as both the most and the least socially and environmentally responsible company in the United States in a 2009 survey of consumers.
Perhaps to achieve some clarity, Walmart is now giving supporters and skeptics alike a platform to discuss its initiatives, launching a blog called the Green Room. As Walmart CEO Mike Duke explains, “The Green Room is the next step in our sustainability journey and we hope it will be a platform for an ongoing conversation with NGOs, suppliers and others who want to share ideas and partner with us in helping people live better around the world.”
The blog kicked off with three questions for the community: What do you think are the biggest challenges to sustainability? What do you wish we as a company could do to address and environmental or social issue? And how could we help your each your own sustainability goals? How exactly the blog will cover these topics is still yet to be seen.
Like most corporate blogs, Walmart’s gives it an informal way to engage its community, and a place for the company to articulate its own viewpoint on sustainability in a casual and personal way. So far, Walmart has used the blog to tell sustainability stories that don’t necessarily warrant a press release, like the tale of Costa Rican farmer Jessica Oviedo, who grows lettuce for Walmart as part of their Direct Farm program. The post has garnered comments from both critics and supporters alike.
While people are hesitant to believe Walmart is truly a changed force, the company has made quite a few strides since 2005 when former CEO Lee Scott announced its commitment to three overarching sustainability goals: to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain people and the environment.
While these goals are certainly yet to be checked off the list and much bigger questions linger over the inherent contradiction of a big-box sustainable retailer, it’s hard to argue that Walmart has not made progress in their environmental impact over the past six years.
We’ve brought you quite a few stories on Walmart’s sustainability initiatives, mostly focused on their growing solar installations as they inch toward their goal of powering with 100 percent renewable energy. Since 2005, Walmart says it has lowered the carbon footprint of its stores by more than 10 percent, made its fleet 65 percent more efficient, and is working on a sustainability index for all products to analyze and provide supply chain and life cycle analysis to their consumers. These small changes can have a real impact when multiplied on Walmart’s massive scale. Critics (and common sense) will be quick to point out that these energy savings and efficiency measures also translate into a huge money saver for Walmart, but those pounds of CO2 are still saved from the atmosphere, whatever the motivation.
As consumers become more concerned with the impact of each purchase, companies are forced to respond with increasing transparency. And as more companies participate, good old peer pressure kicks in to form your own compelling sustainability story. If the real truth is not pleasant, then that social pressure will hopefully also drive companies to make changes or risk losing their customer. With the rise of social media and increased access to information, the conversation will happen either with or without you. Seems Walmart has made the moves to have that conversation with its consumers in a public and (somewhat) controlled environment.