I saw Walmart’s Commitment Firsthand at Sustainability Expo

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Anyone who has been reading my blogs or even talking to me casually for more than 5 minutes knows that sustainability is a big deal to me. While the fashionista in me constantly battles with consumerism and the lazy cook in me tries not to justify eating processed food, pretty much every other area of our lives incorporates green practices. Knowing this, it can sometimes be difficult to explain why I have chosen to work with Walmart, a company that — on its face — is just too big to be sustainable.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Walmart is doing a lot more for the sustainability movement than you’d expect. And this week, I got to experience the excitement around the company’s efforts firsthand at their first Sustainability Expo. Baby Juliza and I traveled to Bentonville, AR, home of Walmart headquarters, for the event.

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But before we went, we had a film crew come to our home — along with the homes of a few other moms — to find out from us firsthand what sustainability means to us and our families. My kids and hubby even got to make an appearance!

The great thing about making a video like this is that it doesn’t feel like lip service. Two of the moms, Denise from Wholesome Mommy and Jenn from Frugal Upstate, got to go up on stage during the expo to share some more of our thoughts about what consumers are craving. (Nicole of Presley’s Pantry was there too). They did this in front of a captive audience of Walmart executives and CEOs of major manufacturers. It feels like Walmart is actually listening to what consumers say they want and trying to provide it.

There’s really a lot the company is doing behind the scenes that may never affect customers directly, including their goals to achieve zero waste and to fuel their truck fleet with renewable energy. But more and more, sustainability is becoming inseparably woven into the customer experience as well — which generally translates to more organic, natural (though I hate that word), and otherwise eco-friendlier products on shelves.

My fellow Walmart Moms and I at the Walmart Sustainability Expo.

My fellow Walmart Moms and I at the Walmart Sustainability Expo.

However, the consumer side is just one small part of the sustainability movement. I tend to speak to my readers as the voice of a fellow consumer, and share the changes we can personally take on to make the world — and our homes — healthier places to live. However, sitting in a room full of the CEOs of the largest companies in the world made me truly grasp how important it is for them to make changes for the better. Because of the sheer size of not just Walmart, but their suppliers, including huge corporations like Cargill and Kellogg’s, small changes multiply exponentially for dramatic impact.

For example, one initiative aims to reduce the amount of air in packaged products. Just air. On its face, that doesn’t seem like a very green change. However, the impact means that more product can fit in a single truck for transport, which in turn leads to fewer trucks needed on the road and an overall reduction in carbon emissions.

Realistically, sustainability is a very complex concept — particularly when it comes to manufacturing — and it would be a waste to look at it one-dimensionally. There needs to be consideration at every stage of the production process. Walmart’s 7-pronged approach to packaging is a good example of how many things need to be considered when creating true sustainable change:

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There’s so much work to be done one so many fronts, and I’m happy to be on the front lines of that.

I tend to consider myself a green activist, and it can be difficult to listen to large companies promising to do better. Because what we’d really like to do is for them to get rid of the products that are not eco-friendly altogether and replace them with greener options. I get it. Really I do. But what I also understand is that huge companies aren’t going anywhere, and we as consumers have to continue pushing them to do better, even if it takes baby steps. Because the absolute truth is that they are listening and learning and understanding that sustainability is not just better for the world, but better for their bottom lines as well.

Walmart is a great example of that. They are truly leading the change with innovations like their sustainability index and their initiative to remove 10 toxic chemicals from products. These changes will inevitably lead to suppliers making better products, and that will benefit us all.

Check out my Twitter stream from the last few days or search the #WalmartExpo hashtag for more about what we heard and learned, and share what you think about Walmart‘s commitment to sustainability. I’d genuinely love to hear your thoughts, and Walmart would too.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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3 responses
  • Robin Schneider May 1, 2014, 3:53 pm

    For nearly three years we have been pressing Walmart to stand up for recycling by taking back electronic waste in their stores, like Best Buy and other retailers have been doing for years. So I read your blog post with interest.

    When electronic waste does not get responsibly recycled much of it gets dumped into crude scrap yards in developing countries. I’ve been to one in Accra, Ghana and it was one of the most horrific sights of my life.

    Just as they have used their position to get major consumer brands to support municipal recycling, they should now turn to electronics manufacturers to offer a real solution for e-waste. Consumers should be able to bring back their used electronics to Walmart stores so recycling is as easy as buying a computer or TV.

    We support producer takeback recycling with manufacturers and retailers working together to provide sustainable solutions to communities across Texas and the United States.

    If you are interested in more information on our campaign, please check out takeitbackwalmart.com or reach out to me through Texas Campaign for the Environment.

    Reply
    • jennae May 1, 2014, 6:08 pm

      Robin, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. This is one nuance of Walmart’s sustainability efforts that I had not considered, and I agree with you that it would be the responsible thing to do to take back electronic waste. I will pass along your comment and try to find out more about why this isn’t happening now.

      Thank you!

      Reply

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