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WalMart’s Sustainability Index: Tips for Suppliers

September 1, 2009

WalMart truck

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When WalMart finally unveiled their new Sustainability Index, I found the 15 questions a bit underwhelming. Especially, after all the press and fuss (you can download the questions from the WalMart web site).

For example, the first question, “Have you measured your corporate greenhouse gas emissions?” is so simplistic, that a yes answer could mean many things. Scope 1? Scope 2? Have they taken on the challenge of addressing the full supply chain?

GreenBiz.com offers some advice for getting the most out of the questions, if you are a Walmart supplier that is just beginning to think about environmental issues.

The tips offered (with my thoughts added) include:

1. Set environmental impact baselines: Establish energy, carbon, water, and waste baselines against which progress can be measured. If you are just getting started, focus on the most direct impacts from the biggest part of your footprint. It can be challenging to develop baseline data for your full value chain. Where you lack solid data, speak with your stakeholders and get their input on the most important areas to focus on.

While larger corporations might have the resources to tackle life-cycle assessment (LCA) head on, across the board, the start-ups were struggling with easily accessing good data to help them estimate the key impacts associated with their entire value chain.

A few LCA resources to consider include Sustainable Minds, Earthster, Greenfly and EIO-LCA.

2. Establish impact reduction goals: Align environmental impact data with broader business operations and set reduction goals that drive both cost and environmental outcomes. You might be surprised to discover that cutting energy and carbon use could actually save you money in the long run.

3. Prioritize reduction initiatives: Choose and implement initiatives that will yield the greatest progress against your goals.

4. Track and report progress: Measure progress of reduction initiatives relative to baseline and goals using Greenhouse Gas Protocol or Global Reporting Initiative methodologies.

5. Publicize success: Convey your progress to external stakeholders through company sustainability reports and external venues such as the Carbon Disclosure Project or Ceres. You don’t have to be perfect to start communicating to your stakeholders.

I can’t agree more with Duncan Cheung when he concludes in the GreenBiz post:

“Ultimately, whether you are just starting to think about sustainability or are already recognized as a green leader, if you approach these 15 questions as a fill-in-the-blanks form, you will gain minimal business value. However, if you approach Walmart’s questions as point of departure from which to shape or enhance your sustainability strategy, you will strengthen an important relationship and realize some real business value down the line.”

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Deborah Fleischer, founder and president of Green Impact, works with mid-sized companies to launch green initiatives that encourage innovation and grow market share. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact.

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