The battle to become the world's greenest retailer hotted up last week as the boss of supermarket giant Wal-Mart unveiled the company's latest initiative to improve the environmental sustainability of its operations.
In a speech given to the Prince of Wales' Business and the Environment conference in London last week, Wal-Mart president and CEO Lee Scott announced a new company-wide initiative called Sustainability 360 and designed to limit the environmental footprint of not just Wal-Mart but also its suppliers, employees and customers.
"Sustainability 360 takes in our entire company – our customer base, our supplier base, our associates, the products on our shelves, the communities we serve," said Scott. "And we believe every business can look at sustainability in this way. In fact, in light of current environmental trends, we believe they will and soon."
Under the new initiative - which echoes similar announcements from rivals Marks and Spencer and Tesco - Wal-Mart has pledged to pursue a six-pronged strategy designed to limit the company's environmental footprint; reduce the impact of suppliers; establish environmental sustainability in the communities it operates; make green products affordable for customers; limit the environmental impact of employees; and develop new markets for green products.
In particular, Scott said the company would launch new "Global Innovation Projects", such as a new initiative to get suppliers to investigate removing non-renewable energy from their production processes. "What if we worked with our suppliers to take non-renewable energy off our shelves and out of the lives of our customers?" he asked. "We could create metrics and share best practices so our suppliers could make products that rely less and less on carbon-based energy."
Scott also highlighted how the company's existing environmental initiatives - such as its aim to reduce packaging by five percent by 2013 and increase sales of energy saving lightbulbs, into a company-wide strategy - had already shown how sustainable business models helped deliver commercial benefits.
According to Scott ,Wal-Mart's goal of reducing packaging will not only save 324,000 tons of coal and 67 million gallons of diesel per year, but will also knock $3.4bn off the company’s supply chain costs. "This is great for the environment. But there's also a business advantage - and a pretty big one," he said.
The speech comes just weeks after Wal-Mart opened a new prototype store in Kansas City that aims to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent through the use of a new integrated heating, cooling and refrigeration system.
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