Remember how last April I was able to tell you all about the Walmart Sustainability Milestone Meeting webcast that I watched? Well, the just had another one! I’m here today to share with you a few things I learned.
Now the webcast was an hour long, so obviously I can’t share every single thing they said-but you can go and watch the whole thing yourself at the Walmart Global Sustainability site.
I have continued to be impressed by how seriously Walmart is taking the issue of sustainability. Several different executives mentioned during the webcast “It shouldn’t cost our customer more to get healthy sustainable products for their family.” Well that’s a philosophy that I can really agree with!
The fact that they have included sustainability as a metric on their performance evaluations not only internally for employees, but externally for the folks supplying Walmart means that it is something that will continuously be looked at in the company. When you are “graded” on something and it has an effect on your job, you tend to make sure you pay attention to it! As they said in the meeting regarding Sams Club (and I’m only paraphrasing slightly):
“What we measure gets done and gets improved. What we recognize for and incentivize for become part of our culture instead of being a one off event. Today we recognize sustainable leaders and will be highlighting our sustainable suppliers. Next fiscal year every supplier for Sams will have sustainability as one of the items on their performance review.”
So on to some of the interesting things that I saw in the meeting!
First of all, I thought it was fascinating that they had a gentleman from the WWF speak about sustainability. No, that’s not the World Wrestling Federation–it’s the World Wildlife Foundation.
I know, I was confused at first too. What does saving the Pandas have to do with Walmart Sustainability? But as the gentleman explained:
“(we) started out saving pandas & tigers–but eventually realized that if you don’t engage business to change their practices then you won’t be able to have a long term effect.”
He went on to explain that when you ask the general public what they believe the biggest threat is most of them will say climate change–but he pointed out that resource scarcity is the “2nd horseman of the apocalypse”. Where the food will come from to feed the world’s burgeoning population is a serious issue–and that makes the sustainability of food production even more important.
That’s a conclusion that I have come to myself in the reading I’ve been doing for the last year or two–so it is very promising to hear that being discussed. Taking a look at beef – Walmart’s leadership has been critical to reducing deforestation in relation to the beef production in Brazil. You see trees were being removed to provide grazing land without a thought to the long term effects that would have on the environment or to the long term ability to continue with agriculture in the area. (note: removing vegetation willy nilly without consideration for how it will effect the fertile top couple of inches of soil is generally a bad idea). Walmart created a monitoring system to provide supply chain transparency by asking suppliers to trace beef back to the farm. With this system, the buyers are alerted to deforestation risks of the beef and can more effectively manage environmental risk. Walmart will have 50% of our beef supply chain monitored by the end of 2012, 75% by the end of 2013 and 100% by the end of 2014. That’s right back to “What we measure gets done and gets improved.”
But what about closer to home? Well, I know that Walmart seems like a big impersonal corporation to most folks, but I can tell you from what is now years of interactions with the home office that they see themselves as a community of story tellers. I know, it sounds corny–but one real life story from a customer is worth reams of research data to them. Again–I know it sounds like whitewash, but I’m telling you’ve I’ve sat in meetings and seen it.
And Mike Duke, CEO of Walmart, loves to illustrate his points by telling stories. And he’s good at it! (note: not like we are personal buddies or anything, but I’ve now met him on several occasions and also had the chance to watch him speak both live and in webcasts at several events). At the end of the webcast he told about a recent trip he and several of the most senior folks took to a holistic cattle ranch in Colorado.
Again–as someone who has become more and more concerned about sustainability (note: sometime soon I’ll have a blog post about the difference between “organic/green” and “sustainable”) I found it promising to hear that the things he took as lessons learned from that trip were exactly the kinds of things I hope and pray that the people in our food supply chain are noticing. I’m going to paraphrase again here-I just couldn’t type fast enough to get it word for word:
“1) Ranchers need to have a willingness to change the way they do things to become holistic. 2) Ranchers need to understand both their landscape and the natural wildlife/livestock on their land and how it effects them–for example wild elk grazing on your land can caused a change in where you are going to graze your beef, since that land will already have been “grazed” by the wildlife. 3) Ranchers need to understand timing, so that they can allow the land to recuperate. There is a balance where nature works together–there is a balance of animal and grass to give the best result. “
Seriously. Is that something you would expect to hear from the CEO of Walmart? Oh, and he also mentioned that by using these holistic methods the ranchers were actually able to increase production!! Wow.
And I’d like to point out, although this was webcast and is available for anyone to see, in effect this is an “internal” meeting–I do believe that this is truly what he thinks.
Does this all mean that immediately all beef in Walmart will come from sustainable, holistic ranches? Of course not. Things take time. But I will tell you what. . . when the largest retailer in the world tells suppliers that they want things a certain way, you better believe that suppliers will change their own business in order to get that contract! So again, I find all of this extremely promising!
If you want to know more remember that the Walmart Sustainability Milestone Meeting was recorded and is available for viewing. You can also check out Walmart’s “Green Room” website for information on all their sustainability programs!
Disclosure: This is a sponsored review I am participating in with the Walmart Moms. Walmart has provided me with compensation for this post. My participation is voluntary and opinions, as always are my own.