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Sustainability Reaches the Walmart World

August 15, 2010

Flickr / mjb84

Traditionally associated with a ‘super-size-me’ kind of lifestyle, Walmart seems to be making changes to fit in with the green movement – possibly in a big way.

This past February, Walmart Canada hosted a Green Business Summit that resulted in 24 of Canada’s largest corporations accepting Walmart’s challenge to commit to the following: “My organization will launch a major sustainability project over the next year in Canada focused on waste, energy, water or sustainable products or services.” It’s not clear that every corporation that accepted the challenge has delivered, but this week 8 of the companies have posted “Sustainability Commitment Updates” on www.sharegreen.ca.

Walmart’s own commitment was to make the switch to sustainable seafood, a hot topic these days, with Greenpeace putting pressure on large companies like Costco for selling species of fish, scallops and prawns that the group deems to be unsustainable, while sustainable seafood certification programs, such as SeaChoice and OceanWise, are being adopted by more and more firms. Walmart Canada has pledged to carry only fish that meets at least minimum standards for sustainability, by 2013.

Seven other companies have posted their own updates: Frito-Lay Canada and Kraft Canada are working towards more sustainable packaging for their products (for example, Frito-Lay’s 100% compostable chip bags); Hallmark Canada and Nature’s Grilling Products have targets to reduce energy use in their plants and offices, and Nature’s Grilling has committed to using sustainably sourced charcoal; The Home Depot Canada and Kruger Products both have energy and GHG emissions reduction targets that they’re already working to meet, and Heinz Canada has also already begun reducing its GHG emissions.

It’s nice to see some of the giants making moves, but we’re cautious to become too excited: “sustainability” can be a loosely applied term, and the phenomenon of “greenwashing” can make it hard to tell how environmentally responsible firms’ choices actually are. Additionally, ethical considerations can often lose out when “green” targets are easier to achieve. Regardless, going green has clearly gone mainstream, and that’s probably for the better. As with any movement, we’d prefer large-scale shifts in the way things are done, however, small steps are encouraging, as long as they only mark the beginning.

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