Whenever Walmart takes on a project, it creates ripples — if not tidal waves — throughout every industry it touches. So it’s somewhat surprising, looking back, to learn that when the retail giant first began tackling sustainability goals, it followed an anecdotal, aimless route, seeing an opportunity and going after it, without a system.
Of course, Walmart measured its suppliers and products on “everything under the sun” according to Jeff Rice, but it did not have a real framework until it launched the Sustainability Index in 2009.
Rice, Walmart’s director of sustainability, talked about the necessity of having that kind of framework, and of developing a systematic approach to supply chain sustainability — and especially the importance of metrics — during a panel at the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego.
The Sustainability Index, which is not proprietary to Walmart but open for use by any company, serves as a tool to improve the products its customers favor, integrate sustainability into the business, increase product quality, find supply chain efficiency and drive the productivity loop by reducing costs.
“Building sustainability into the business helps you through the bad times and when things get hard, and through transitions in leadership. We also went through a major leadership transition at Walmart, when (Lee) Scott left and Mike (Duke) came on,” Rice said.
When asked about working with its many suppliers spread across the globe, he said the company approaches the challenge in bite-size chunks, developing a system that works in one country and then applying it elsewhere, so that the key has been to develop practical, actionable tools.
Most of Walmart’s suppliers have reacted positively, Rice said, especially since it’s shifted methods from the long, detailed questionnaires of the past that collected item-level information, but which resulted in a daunting and time-consuming task for its suppliers.
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