Retailer Walmart has been talking up its sustainability efforts, targeting what the company deems a ‘more circular economy’.“[We] are working to help reduce environmental impacts, from the farm to the factory to the customer and at the end of the product life cycle,” Mark Eastham, Senior Manager, Sustainability told FoodNavigator-Asia. “We hope to help create a more circular economy, moving away from a take-make-dispose approach to one where resources are preserved in production, and the materials and other component parts are ultimately recycled back into the economic stream. “We [want to draw on] our strengths—such as our store and logistics infrastructure, our philanthropy and our connection to customers—to pursue practical initiatives that we hope will start to build a stronger value chain and a more circular economy.”
So far, the company has mostly been looking at leveraging its brand name and position to protect forests and biodiversity, as well as cutting down on its carbon footprint.
“We believe we can deliver the greatest impact by creating a higher demand for zero net deforestation products, supporting and enabling transparency, and investing in sustainable sourcing regions,” said Eastham.
In addition, Walmart is has a commitment to achieve zero waste in internal operations for four of its key markets by 2025. These are Japan, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“As a signatory to the G7 Oceans Plastics Charter and the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment being led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment, Walmart is working globally to reduce plastic waste within our operations and throughout our value chain,” Eastham added.
Some of these efforts include the phasing out of single use carrier bags, offering reusable bags, recycling bags with recycled content and working to reduce plastic bag usage through customer and associate engagement across several markets, including Asia.
“Continued progress on global plastics waste reduction will require the collective effort of retailers, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders,” said Eastham.
Walmart sustainability in the F&B arena
A lot of Walmart’s sustainability efforts in the area of food and beverage is focused on palm oil sustainability. The corporation is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and was present at the ratification of the new 2018 RSPO Principles and Criteria last year in Sabah, Malaysia.
Walmart aims to source all of its private-brand products containing palm oil with zero net deforestation, in accordance with the principles and criteria of RSPO, or equivalent standards by 2020.
“We [are asking] our global private brand suppliers to source and use [RSPO-certified or equivalent palm oil] in 100% of Walmart private brand products by the end of 2020,” added Eastham.
“Additionally, we also encourage our national brand suppliers to improve their palm oil sourcing practices in accordance with the RSPO.”
“Walmart will continue to advocate, alongside the RSPO, NGOs, suppliers and others, to make zero net deforestation the norm in the industry – including encouraging a multi-stakeholder approach to strengthen current standards.”
Key sustainability milestones
Eastham added he was pleased with the sustainability milestones the firm has hit to date.
“With regard to some of our key sustainability achievements, Walmart has proudly accomplished [several milestones such as] diverting 78% of our global unsold products, packaging and other waste materials from landfills by end-2017,” he said.
“Additionally, [some] 28% of our global electricity needs are supplied by renewable sources, and we have added over 600 megawatts of renewable energy capacity worldwide since 2007.”
Walmart was also the first retailer to set an emissions-avoidance plan approved by the Science Based Targets initiative in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Walmart in the Asia Pacific
Walmart has over 5900 retail units operating outside of its home base in the United States in some 26 countries. It has a very significant presence in the Asia Pacific region, especially in China, Japan and India.
“In China, Walmart has more than 420 retail units and employs approximately 100,000 associates. To date, Walmart operates a Global Sourcing Office and stores under a number of formats and banners [in the country],” Eastham told us.
In June 2016, Walmart announced a partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com to leverage each others’ strengths to service China consumers via e-commerce and retail. The company also runs the Sam’s Club retail warehouses in China.
In Japan, Walmart operates as the Seiyu supermarket chain, one of the largest chains in the country. Additionally, last year Walmart allied with Rakuten to launch a new online grocery delivery service in Japan.
In India, Walmart India is better known to run under the name of Best Price, as the company runs some 23 Best Price Modern Wholesale stores in nine Indian states. Following the company’s increasing interest in e-commerce worldwide, it invested in Flipkart, India’s leading e-commerce marketplace, according to Eastham.