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Could Walmart Be the Key to Mainstream Sustainability?

Is it possible to buy eco-friendly while also saving money?

Anyone who has ever balked at the sometimes dizzying price of recycled paper or organic yogurt may be skeptical, but Walmart—a company that has long planted its roots in bargain prices and mass markets—is trying to change that.

“It turns out that doing the right thing from a sustainability standpoint is usually also the right thing from a business standpoint,” says Tony Rogers, Walmart senior vice president of marketing.

Rogers, BBA ’90, MBA ’97, revealed Walmart’s sustainability strategy, tactics and challenges during the McCombs Knowledge to Go webinar on Aug. 10.

Hoping to take advantage of Walmart’s size, scale and opportunity for global impact, the company has established three broad sustainability goals:

  1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy 

  2. To create zero waste 

  3. To sell products that sustain people and the environment

Rogers said the impetus for much of their sustainability efforts came after Hurricane Katrina, when Walmart’s logistics know-how allowed them to distribute aid and supplies more quickly and efficiently than many relief organizations and government entities.

Since then, says Rogers, “Sustainability has become the poster child for this idea of pursuing not only our business interests but leveraging our size and scale” to make the world a better place. “There’s rarely a conflict between the two,” he adds.

For instance, Rogers says Walmart has saved more than $200 million over the last few years by not having its trucks idle over night. Better for the environment and not bad for the bottom line, either.

What about Costs for the Customer?

Rogers says Walmart’s core customer is the working family who is trying to make ends meet and get food on the table. In other words, they’re not often in a position to pay a premium for sustainable products.

He added that hearing about Walmart’s sustainability efforts typically improves customers’ opinions of the company, but it doesn’t necessarily make them more likely to shop there until they see a personal financial benefit.

And because of Walmart’s massive size, often times simply choosing an eco-friendly supplier is enough to make the product more affordable for customers.

“We can be a powerful accelerator because we’re not asking anyone to make a tradeoff between their finances and sustainability,” says Rogers. “Walmart is so visible that when we do things, it’s on such a large scale that it changes the industry. When we order organic cotton apparel, we order so much that it changes the pricing structure of that product.”

Rogers believes that sweet spot of offering a higher quality item at a price that offers financial value to the customer is the key to making sustainability truly mainstream.

“The power of driving sustainable practices resides in solving a problem the customer has and allowing her to do it in a sustainable way,” Rogers says. “When you go at it just from an altruistic point, that’s not going to engage the mass market.”

To learn more about Walmart’s sustainability efforts, including how it has affected their recruiting and employment practices, listen to the complete recording of the Knowledge to Go webinar.

Upcoming Webinars

“Real Estate Outlook” from Jay Hartzell, Associate Professor Jay Hartzell Sept. 14, 2010 | 12-1 p.m.  CST

“Innovation and Information in Health Care Delivery” from Professor Reuben McDaniel Oct. 12, 2010 | 12-1 p.m. CST

Learn more details and register at the Knowledge to Go website.


#1 With all due respect to

With all due respect to Wallmart, it is one of the largest importers from China in the world. Hard to imagine a less eco-friendly environment. That said, I agree with much of the article: when a large company insists that eco-friendly be made economically, it will be made eco-friendly. Suppliers simply cannot afford to ignore the demands of a market player the size of Wallmart.

#2 I hope someone will start to

I hope someone will start to sell product withouth necessary package of products. Because everytime I bought something there was a tons of waste from packages. There should be 2 options. Product with normal package and products with minimum package ( no labels, no photos, etc). Or liquid products. There should be posibility to fill up my own bottle in the store. Which will be cheaper, than buyin product bottled.

#3 Wallmart? Good lord... I sure

Wallmart? Good lord... I sure hope not.

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