Walmart CEO on Sustainability: 'We Are Never Satisfied'

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Walmart CEO Mike Duke at a sustainability milestone meeting
"The environment is an area where we have build momentum," says Walmart CEO Mike Duke.

Walmart recently released its 2010 Global Sustainability Report detailing its progress in both environmental and social responsibility between Feb. 1, 2009 and Jan. 31, 2010.

In its report, CEO Mike Duke says the company is “never satisfied because our founder Sam Walton was never satisfied.”

When Duke took over the corporate reins last year, he promised to make a full commitment to sustainability.

This included three overarching goals: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, become zero waste and to sell products that “sustain people and the environment.”

In an unfavorable economy, Walmart reports seeing improvement in efficiency in its stores and touts its pledge to the environment, even during the downtown.

But despite its ongoing efforts in greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, the company’s absolute footprint continues to rise as it expands. According to Duke, it was this data that spawned Walmart’s release of a new GHG reduction goal.

“We recently announced an aggressive goal to eliminate 20 million metric tons of GHGs from our global supply chain by the end of 2015,” Duke says. “This represents one-and-a-half times our anticipated cumulative carbon footprint growth over the next five years and is equal to what 3.8 million cars emit in GHGs during one year.”

“There are many opportunities throughout the product life cycle,” he continues, “from the sourcing of the raw materials, to the manufacturing of a product, to its transportation, and to how customers use it, dispose of it and recycle it.”

The 47-page report explains that due to the size of Walmart’s supply system, some of the most effective and economical GHG reductions do not occur at the retail-level, but rather up or down the value-chain of consumer products, in raw material extraction, product manufacturing, transportation, customer use or product end-of-life.

The report also corrects a statement made in the 2009 report which said Walmart would “design and open a viable store prototype that is up to 25 to 30 percent more efficient and produces up to 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions” in its U.S. stores. The company now says it will extend that goal to its international counterparts and look for innovative solutions to improve global efficiency.

One of Walmart’s major concentrated efforts includes reducing waste generated by its facilities. Its 2009 recycling rates include more than 1.3 million pounds of aluminum, 120 million pounds of plastics, 11.6 million pounds of mixed paper and 4.6 billion pounds of cardboard.

Other highlighted achievements in the report include reducing global production of plastic bag waste by 16.1 percent (66.5 million pounds, approximately 4.8 billion bags), and a 5.1 percent reduction in global GHG emissions.

“One important point that we hope people take away from this progress update is that we have listened closely to the feedback on earlier reports and taken that into thoughtful consideration,” Duke says.

“We continue to ensure our definition of sustainability includes both environmental and social commitments around the globe. We have worked to make our metrics clearer and to provide greater transparency into our data.”

With more than 8,400 retail units in 15 countries around the world, Walmart reports its sales totaled a cool $405 billion for the 2010 fiscal year.

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