Walmart is one of the largest retailers in the world, vying for the top spot alongside Amazon. Unlike Amazon, which primarily operates online, a significant portion of Walmart’s operations still take place in physical stores. This difference is reflected in its approach to sustainability, distinguishing it from online-only retailers
How is Walmart tackling sustainability?
Through the years, critics have accused Walmart of labor exploitation, driving away local businesses, and unsustainable business practices. These accusations prompted the retailer to take action and about fifteen years ago, it began the path towards change. The environmental footprint of its business is not the only subject of concern, but it is actually a crucial one.
Walmart’s objectives are simple: reach zero waste and zero emissions by 2040. This means powering their operation entirely with renewable energy and cycling waste into a circular economy.
This includes transportation and local stores, but, surprisingly, it does not include its suppliers. Walmart plans to significantly reduce its suppliers’ greenhouse gas emissions only by 2030.
Did Walmart improve its sustainability?
Do Walmart’s actions align with its positive intentions? The answer may vary depending on the area we focus on.
Walmart and Zero Waste
The company isn’t too far from reaching zero waste in the United States. In 2015, they had already diverted 82% of their discarded products from landfills towards recycling facilities. Meanwhile, outside the US, the company struggles to achieve a 60% recycling rate, and in some countries, the quota is stuck at 11%.
Walmart and renewables
Only 36% of the company’s operations are powered by renewable energy sources, a 10% increase from 2014. While this is a great step, improvements in this sector might be slower than expected.
There is some uncertainty regarding Walmart’s total energy consumption. While the percentage of renewable energy used is increasing, the overall energy consumption is also growing. It is possible that Walmart is using a combination of renewable energy and energy produced by fossil fuels or natural gases to meet its growing demand.
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What do critics say about Walmart’s sustainability actions?
Walmart has set some ambitious goals for a retailer, and the company has taken some steps to achieve them. However, critics have pointed out that the company’s sustainability roadmap is incomplete.
Specifically, some critics argue that Walmart’s business practices have led to the displacement of local businesses from city centers and small communities, which in turn forces millions of people to drive to Walmart for their weekly shopping trips, resulting in unnecessary emissions.
There has been criticism directed towards Walmart for their lack of transparency in their production line. Although Walmart has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their suppliers by “1 gigaton” by 2030, it is unclear how polluting those suppliers currently are. Additionally, there is no way to determine if Walmart is making progress toward achieving its objective.
Lastly, it would be a mistake to wholly separate a business’s commitment to environmental sustainability from the conditions of its workers. Walmart’s American workers receive some of the lowest payouts among major retailers.
The company was also mentioned in an open letter by the United Nations. In the letter, the UN highlighted critical issues faced by Walmart employees, including low wages.
How Does Walmart Compare To Other Retailers
Walmart is often praised for its sustainability policies, yet it still faces criticism for them. However, how does Walmart’s sustainability approach compare to other retailers?
In the brick-and-mortar retail space, Costco is arguably Walmart’s biggest competitor, but the two companies have very different sustainability strategies. Costco doesn’t publish a sustainability report, and it doesn’t have a carbon target.
However, Costco stands out for its greater transparency in disclosing information about sustainability in its supply chain. In contrast to Walmart, Costco not only provides detailed reports on emissions but also adopts a transparent approach to the reuse of organic waste.
This difference in transparency between the two companies suggests that there is an opportunity for mutual learning. Both retailers can benefit from incorporating successful elements from each other’s sustainability practices.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A Walmart Store. Featured Photo Credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr.