Walmart’s Sustainability Index

Big box stores like Walmart are in the process of developing their own sustainability index. Walmart in particular has created a 15-question scorecard for top-tier companies that sell products in their stores. The answers are used to assess companies, and how sustainable their business practices are. However, they are not ranking or rating products, or even companies. Instead, they’re just trying to provide transparency and spur environmental change.

In honesty, I don’t shop at Walmart if I can avoid it. Their stores are large, crowded and overwhelming. The way they treat employees is questionable at best. They have been accused of forcing small, local businesses into bankruptcy. And I have concerns about the conditions in overseas factories that manufacture the goods they sell. While I think that there is potential for good in their sustainability index, it is not enough to make me a believer.

All the same, the sustainability index sounds like a step in the right direction. With a company as large and far-reaching as Walmart these initiatives can have huge impacts. In 2005 Walmart had more than 6000 stores and 1.6 million employees worldwide. The actions undertaken by Walmart will obviously have a much larger impact than the actions undertaken by almost any other entity on the planet. If Walmart actually acts on the information it receives in order to create lasting change, it’s not a bad thing at all.

Of course, nobody asked me what I think should be covered under a sustainability index, least of all Walmart. But if I were given a seat at the table, here are the things that I would want it to cover:

  • Product packaging – A lot of mass-produced toys come with more packaging than toy, all of which is thrown away. Ditto for electronics and small consumer goods. The excess packaging also means that more energy is consumed in shipping, since fewer Barbies will fit in the shipping container.
  • Agricultural practices – I think that any sustainability index needs to take into account the way in which a product was grown. When I’m buying something I want to know not just what it contains and whether it is organic or not, but also where the ingredients were grown, whether they contain genetically modified ingredients, and what sorts of chemicals were used.
  • Toxic toys – Many (if not most) mass-produced toys are made of plastic. And plastic contains all sorts of chemicals to make it soft, or hard, or smell nice. Some of these chemicals, like phthalates and dioxins may be toxic. This is all the more alarming when you consider that our babies are chewing on them.
  • Sweatshop labour – People in the developing world should not be exploited and paid poverty wages because I don’t want to pay more than $12 for sweatpants.
  • Personal care products – Like toys, many of our personal care products contain a whole host of chemicals. Many of these chemicals are potential carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. And, like toys, many of these products are ending up on the skin and in the mouths of our children.
  • What about you? Do you think that Walmart’s sustainability index is a fabulous step forward, or just so much greenwashing? And what would you like to see it cover?

    This is my first post for the Green Moms Carnival. I am so excited to be taking part! There are some really fabulous green bloggers sharing their views on ‘Green Standards’ this month. So hop on over to In Women We Trust to read more about Sustainable Standards: What’s the Consumer’s Opinion?

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      Comments

      1. I also don’t shop at Wal-Mart. Something like 90% of their products are from China so not sure how any can be very sustainable. But we will see how this whole thing works out.
        .-= Lisa´s last post ..Beyond A Reasonable Drought? =-.

      2. i think you hit the nail on the head – it’s greenwashing! just about every business i see seems to be jumping on the green/eco bandwagon and it even includes jewelry makers too.
        unfortunately green/eco/earth friendly has become a sellable tag and they are terms which are wide open to interpretation by the user and recipient. far from making life at the supermarket easier in terms of choices, i think extra big thinking caps are needed alongside the shelves

        (and no, i don’t shop at Wlamart either – have been in there maybe 3 times and hate the set up)
        .-= pomomama aka ebbandflo´s last post ..i AM canadian =-.

      3. I spent the better part of my college life an employee of Walmart and I loved it. This was back in the 90’s and they treated their staff wonderful..or at least, what I saw of their staff. Last year I again worked for a very short amount of time at Walmart…and loved it. Well okay, working with teenagers at night wasn’t so lovely, but how the company treated me was just as great as it was back in the day. I still have friends who work for Walmart and there are all in various levels of management and they are treated well.

        I shop at Walmart because it is wonderful for me. I can get everything in one place. I can also choose to be picky. My money goes alot further there than most other places for sure.

        As for the mom and pop shops that are being forced to close, that is sad. I love those stores too. It isn’t just Walmart who is having this affect though. Not many of shop at mom and pop grocerie stores, clothing stores or gas stations. Big business seems to be swallowing alot of the pie these days.

        Either way, you love or hate Walmart. As well as changing the giant, you need to change the mind of the shopper. Our whole existence is to consume and do so for the littles amount possible. It is this way of thinking that needs to be altered.
        .-= Heather´s last post ..Pierced Ears =-.

      4. I’m a Wal-Mart shopper. I love the fact I can get most of my everyday items all at one store AND it’s not nearly as expensive as going to a specialty store. I feel bad for the mom and pop businesses but sadly, it’s become a global economy. Businesses that can take advantage of the entire world can make their products more widely available and cheaper.

        I was also a Wal-Mart employee for a few years back in the day. I worked in the Photo Lab so I was MUCH cooler than the regular employees LOL ;) I was paid higher than minimum wage and got great benefits. I found they treated their employees pretty well.

        Oh, and I was chosen as our store rep to go to an annual Shareholders meeting in Arkansas…it was that trip that made me decide I wasn’t cut out to be a Wal-Mart lifer. Yes, they are a great company but that morning cheer…ugh, gave me the heebie-jeebies!!
        .-= Carrie´s last post ..Wordless Wednesday – Superhero Edition =-.

      5. I love Wal-Mart. They have everything under one roof which means people don’t have to drive from store to store (less driving = less pollution).

        Their prices are lower which means people in environmentally damaging jobs don’t have to work as long to afford an item (less work = less damage to the planet)

        They employ elederly and handicapped people to work as greeters (social sustainability right there!)

        And they have those happy faces announcing price rollbacks – who doesn’t like a happy face? :)

      6. marc choyt says:

        The real question is, how many people who have raved about Wal-Mart as their place of choice to shop on this blog are actually hired by Wal-Mart to post on boards like this?

        Of a dollar spent at Wal-Mart, about 13 cents stays in my local economy. Shopping at the Mom and Pop stores, about 43 cents stays in my local economy.

        So while all the above Wal-Mart lovers may be saving money, but they are eroding the community base that is the foundation for a strong civil society.

        For Wal-Mart, greenwashing or not, it is and always will be about one thing: making as much money as possible from a community and exporting it to their shareholders.

        • Marc, I know the three people who are Walmart shoppers personally. They are not spies or corporate plants, they are my friends. As are their partners and children.

          I am really glad that you stopped by and shared your perspective. All viewpoints are welcome, as long as we’re respectful. And, as you may have gleaned from my post, I pretty much agree with you about Walmart’s practices. But we don’t need to attack others or call their motives into question to make our point. :)

      7. Love or hate Walmart, if they’re paying attention to sustainability, it’s because they’ve got marketing statistics that show it will benefit their bottom line. It’s a step in the right direction, sure, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s for altruistic reasons. And if they are the ones defining the criteria, you can be certain they will choose factors that paint them in the best possible light.

        And in case there’s any doubt, I’m not a Wal-Mart fan. Have never shopped there.
        .-= Alexis´s last post ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

      8. I shope at Walmart for fabric and yarn, cards, and occasionally clothes. I see a lot of eco-options there, like organic cotton yarn or T-shirts. I like the idea of the sustainability index, but I’d like to see more about it and how it is determined. I’m guessing companies that sell items at Walmart won’t like it if they get a low rating.

        However, back when Walmart announced they were going to sell only milk without hormones and antibiotics, I think that demonstrated that they listen to their customers and I would imagine that had a large impact on the dairy industry, since they sell so much milk. The sustainability index might work that way as well.
        .-= Abbie´s last post ..Buried Treasure =-.

      9. WalMart’s Sustainability Index is overshadowed by the immense impacts of the physical design of their stores:
        http://bit.ly/EeYCQ

      10. I shop at Wal-Mart for a select few items. Like you, and for similar reasons, I avoid Wal-Mart as much as possible. My guess is it’s mostly greenwashing, but part of me would like to give them the benefit of the doubt just in case they really do intend to try and make a difference.

        I don’t know, I hear about corporations trying to make changes to their business processes to be more environmentally and socially responsible, but so often you don’t see any real results after the first few press releases.

      11. Wow, this is like being a liberal or a conservative – such different views. : ) I’m happy Wal Mart is taking the direction, only wish they had a big group of consumers at the decision table when they are determining the questions. By the way, on the China front, I read once that Wal Mart is China’s 8th largest trading partner. If women tell Wal Mart what they want, and Wal Mart tells China…

      12. If they could influence the reduction of packaging alone, I’d be thrilled. Amazon had their top sellers in minimal packaging last Christmas, and that was wonderful. None of the stupid plastic clamshells with four thousand twist ties.
        .-= Lady M´s last post ..And Now For Something Completely Different =-.

      13. Winston Riley says:

        For much more on this subject–especially concerning food, please see http://www.forkinbasics.blogspot.com

      14. My mom gave the boys each a W-mart gift card so we “had” to go look at the toys. In that one hour I felt like a year had been drained out of my life! It was crowded, messy, and had an overwhelming aura of despair hanging over the employees and shoppers. UGH. The one exception was the teller at my till. She was very meticulous and chatty — obviously new — and so slow that unfortunatley I was too exhausted by the time I got to the front of the line that I barely smiled back.
        Again, UGH.
        .-= *pol´s last post ..It’s just gotta go =-.

      15. I think you should definitely have a place at the table, Amber…great points you bring up! I’m not too familiar with the Wal Mart of today…we have a Target down the street that if I have to go to a big box store for something, I chose them for sure.

        I do think the sustainability index is a step in the right direction, and hopefully it will have a big, positive impact. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined seeing so many people using canvas shopping bags, or driving hybrids, but times are changing for the better…I just hope it’s not too late!
        .-= Michelle´s last post ..SEVEN!!!!!!! =-.

      16. All of us are drawn to the convenience of big box shopping. It’s part of what makes them work! I feel at this point it’s a wait and see proposition. Unless enough of us can roar to have a say as consumers

      17. I am in favor of a strong, meaningful sustainability index. I expect it will always be a work in progress; but let’s strive to make it as far-reaching as possible right from the get go. It’s the only way consumers can meaningfully “use their purse” if they want to reward companies that truly are doing their best to protect people and the planet.
        .-= Diane MacEachern´s last post ..We Need Meaningful Standards to Protect the Planet — and Us, too. =-.

      18. Amber, you made some great suggestions for Walmart, and surprise, surprise, I totally agree with them! I really like the constructive approach you took. And I’m impressed that you have so many friends who shop at Walmart! :)

      19. It’s definitely a start. But I have trouble believing in the sustainability of big box stores to begin with. We’ll see.
        .-= Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish´s last post ..Hey Wal-Mart! I See Glaring Omissions in Your New Sustainability Index =-.

      20. Welcome to the carnival, Amber! Glad to see you here. You had some great ideas about what should be added, and I totally agree. I try to avoid Walmart at all costs for the many reasons you list– but the reality in my rural corner of Vermont, sometimes I HAVE to go. I am happy they are developing these standards– it will have a huge impact on corporate culture, I only wish consumers like us could have been involved.
        .-= Katy Farber´s last post ..New Post on MightyNest: Fight Flu with Clean Well All Natural Hand Sanitizer =-.

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