Wal-Mart Cites Environmental Progress

The Journal of Commerce

Truck fuel efficiency up 38 percent, most waste redirected if not eliminated

Wal-Mart is making progress toward reducing its environmental impact and improving working conditions at supplier factories, the retailer said in its online 2009 Global Sustainability Report.

The global retailer updated initiatives launched in 2005 by former company president and chief executive officer, H. Lee Scott. Mike Duke, who succeeded Scott on Feb. 1, said in the report that he has embraced and expanded those initiatives. "We need to accelerate and broaden our efforts," Duke wrote.

Wal-Mart said its three key long-term environmental goals remain unchanged: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar; to create zero waste in its supply chain and operations; and to sell products that sustain Earth's resources.

According to the report, some results exceeded expectations, but some initiatives were changed or dropped. On the positive side, the goal of improving fuel efficiency in the company’s truck fleet by 25 percent by October 2008 led to a 38 percent improvement in efficiency. The goal of selling 100 million energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs by the end of 2007 resulted in 137 million sold.

From February 2008 to January 2009, 57 percent of the waste from Wal-Mart’s stores was "redirected" so that it did not end up in landfills. The original goal of a 25 percent solid waste reduction by October 2008 was set aside, however, while Wal-Mart worked with its waste haulers to develop a method of measuring its waste stream, the company said. The company also retrofitted refrigerated cases with energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) lighting at more than 500 stores by 2008, a year before schedule. Wal-Mart said also that it is partnering with its suppliers in China to improve energy efficiency at the top 200 factories by 20 percent by 2012. The company says it already has energy efficiency pilots in 100 factories there.

The company said it is requiring its foreign suppliers to meet stricter employment standards, including prohibiting local workers under the age of 14 even if local laws allow that practice, and complying with local laws if the legal working age is higher than 14. However, Trina Tocco, deputy director of the International Labor Rights Forum, a worker advocacy organization, said in response that this year's report from Wal-Mart showed only incremental improvement for workers in the factories of its suppliers. The full report is available online at http://walmartstores.com/Sustainability/7951.aspx.

Contact Alan Field at afield [at] joc.com.