Walmart Takes On Toxic Chemicals

While Walmart remains on the list of the top 50 polluters in the world and continues its controversial practices regarding employee pay and other issues, we continue to highlight their progress on the long path to sustainability.

This week, Walmart announced a plan to reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals in the products it sells under its Consumable Chemicals initiative (which includes Sam’s Club). The program adds another layer to Walmart’s Sustainability Index, which it uses to decide which products to purchase and which to avoid. 

As of January 2015, all cleaning and personal care product suppliers will be required to disclose their ingredients -including household cleaners, beauty and cosmetic products.  

Walmart is prioritizing 10 toxic chemicals to either eliminate, reduce, substitute or restrict. Any supplier that uses these chemicals will have to indicate that on packaging by January 2018.  Walmart will label house-brand products starting next year.  

Another product category Walmart is targeting is fertilizer – it wants suppliers that use commodity grains such as corn, wheat and soy to reduce its use by developing an "optimization" plan. Walmart’s goal is to cut fertilizer use by up to 14 million acres of US farmland by 2020.

These latest initiatives will be monitored through the Walmart Sustainability Index, which now covers 200 product categories and more than 1,000 suppliers. By the end of the year, the index will cover 300 categories and up to 5,000 suppliers. And by 2017, 70% of all products the company sells in the US will come from suppliers that use its Sustainability Index.

Walmart intends to expand the index to international markets, starting with Walmart Chile and Walmart Mexico in 2014.

Another goal is to include 3 billion pounds of recycled plastics to its packaging by 2020. 

“We’ve reached an acceleration point where we are moving from measurement to results. We’re starting to really drive progress with the Index,” says Walmart president and CEO Mike Duke. “This is about trust and value. Using less energy, greener chemicals, fewer fertilizers and more recycled materials – all of this – is the right thing to do for the planet and it’s right for our customers and our business.”

Since it started applying the index one year ago, Walmart says it has improved product sustainability scores for general merchandise by an average of 20%, groceries (12%), and consumables and health and wellness (6%).

“With the Sustainability Index, Walmart is applying the science and research that we’ve developed to create a more sustainable supply chain globally,” says Kara Hurst, CEO of The Sustainability Consortium. “We’re excited about the significant progress Walmart and its suppliers are making and value their partnership with us to address big issues and drive real social and environmental change.”

Walmart’s goal is to run on 100% renewable energy and recently said it would increase those projects six-fold by 2020. It currently has 300 megawatts of renewables, almost all solar, supplying about 4% of its energy. It also pledged to cut energy intensity per kWh 20% from 2010 levels by using LEDs, building energy management systems and installing efficient HVAC and refrigeration systems.

Unfortunately, Walmart lags considerably on labor practices, the social side of sustainability.  The latest example is in Washington DC, where Walmart threatened to abandon its plan for six stores in the city if a bill passed requiring it to pay a living wage. Because of that, Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed that bill, which was passed by the legislature.

The law would have required retailers with buildings bigger than 75,000 square feet and corporate sales of more than $1 billion to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour.

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