Walmart tried to make sustainability affordable. Here’s what happened

Walmart leaders quickly learned of which the absence of a credible sustainability standard hampered their ability to market brand-new products.

Back then, marketing products as “sustainable” was anything goes. While a few marketing attributes, like “organic,” are verified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the most part companies were free to call their products “sustainable,” “natural” or “not bad for you,” regardless of whether the idea was true or not.

The need for a standard crystallized when Walmart asked suppliers for proposals for a 2008 Earth Day promotion. the idea wanted to specifically promote products of which were sustainable. Suppliers responded with such a vast range of claims of which Walmart managers could not figure out which products to include. Examples of traits of which made a product “sustainable” ranged via having “reduced” packaging material – though there was no gauge as to what the idea was reduced via – to the use of non-toxic ingredients or the product’s overall recyclability.

A subsequent promotion of Campbell’s soup using a green “Earth Day” label (instead of its customary red one) generated external criticism along with accusations of “greenwashing.” of which can be, some bloggers claimed sustainability at Walmart simply meant taking existing products along with putting green labels on them.

Lessons like these led Walmart to seek a way of defining what sustainable means for all its products – a mammoth scale given of which the company had over 60,000 direct suppliers along with an individual store could sell about 142,000 products. So, in 2009, the company helped establish the Sustainability Consortium, a collaboration of retailers, suppliers, universities, environmental groups along with others to create a data-driven index of sustainability.

The consortium would certainly eventually produce a sustainability “toolkit” with key performance indicators along with guidance for achieving sustainability at the product category level whether these be laundry care products, computers or beer.

Such indicators could then be used by consortium members in communications with their suppliers, typically in a sustainability scorecard of which the supplier would certainly complete. For instance, a producer might be asked if the idea had plans for reducing harmful emissions – along with if the idea didn’t, the thinking initially went, This kind of type of information could eventually be passed on to consumers who could then make their own judgments.

The problem was, relying on customers didn’t work.

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