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Walmart and Sustainability

In: Business and Management

Submitted By diomary
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Walmart and Sustainability. That pairing of terms elicits strong reactions, usually falling into roughly three camps:
The "oxymoron" camp, who believe Walmart's business model of overdriven underpaid factory workers pumping out cheap goods into thousand-mile supply chains that feed a consumption-based society inherently and unavoidably conflicts with sustainability.
The "salvation" camp, who welcome Walmart using its market muscle as a "bully pulpit" to push sustainability advances from the top down -- which arguably produces more change quicker than grassroots, bottom-up sustainability initiatives.
And then there's the rest of us, who see truth in both of these two contradictory ideas (with a nod to this maxim from F. Scott Fitzgerald.) I include myself, because I lived in this schizophrenia for almost a year while I wrote Walmart's first sustainability report in 2007, keenly skeptical of the Goliath's conversion to the religion of sustainability, and cautiously hopeful of the promise of grander conversions that Walmart's change of heart heralded. I continue to straddle both sides.
Now, two years later, Walmart just unveiled its Sustainable Product Index, which provides fuel for both fires. In a nutshell, the index (which has been in development for over a year) poses 15 questions in four broad categories (energy and climate; material efficiency; natural resources; and people and community) to 100,000 of its suppliers worldwide, with a future goal of translating the data into simple product sustainability ratings for consumers. Walmart Chief Merchandising Officer John Fleming called the survey "a key first step toward establishing real transparency in our supply chain," and CEO Mike Duke called the index a tool "to help enable sustainable consumption."
Chalk one up for "salvation," if this rhetoric proves true. Peek beneath the hood, however, and the…...

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