Walmart's Strides in Sustainability

Manuel Gómez is Walmart’s global Vice President (VP) of Sustainability. He has been with the company for over 10 years in a range of merchandising and management roles primarily focused on Mexico and Central American markets, before moving to his current position where he leads the strategic development of Walmart’s global sustainability efforts across the supply chain.

What projects does Walmart currently have under way to encourage sustainability in the supply chain?
Our work with the Sustainability Consortium, which we started back in 2009, was developed alongside other suppliers and NGOs to provide sustainability metrics for our industry. Walmart uses those metrics to power the Sustainability Index with the intention of helping our teams and suppliers identify opportunities to better focus their environmental footprint. We have over 700 categories, backed by science, and almost 50 percent of our business is using them in their daily activities. Because of this we’re able to identify some of the biggest barriers to sustainability today.

In particular how will your Closed Loop Fund target sustainability growth in the plastics industry?
The Index identified recyclability and recycled content as some of the major areas to improve in relation to the sustainability of packages. One of the challenges evident was the lack of availability of recycled plastics that can be used in products or packaging. The Closed Loop Fund can unlock these barriers and encourage more recycling collection through capital. The fund was formed with others in the value chain and we are targeting to raise $100 million for investment. We are very excited about this as a possibility to join public and private parties, and capital, in one place to boost recycling.

In your drive for sustainability, how did Walmart decide which areas it wanted to push lightweighting? And why?
We work closely with suppliers to continuously challenge the status quo and rethink packaging. We’ve already seen improvements across many areas such as our Oak Leaf brand wine bottles – where the weight of a wine bottle has decreased 37 percent compared to the previous bottle. This impacts both the environmental footprint and the costs of production and allows for greater numbers shipped in the same consignments. These types of efficiencies go hand-in-hand with our consumers as we can then pass on the products we offer at lower prices. More sustainable packages mean lower costs, prices and ultimately more sales. It’s more sustainable in various uses of the word.

What are the benefits to retailers to practice lightweighting? Can smaller retailers benefit from it as well?
Absolutely! They definitely have a lower environmental impact and many of the examples I’ve touched on indicate that this is a process that spans the packaging value chain. We highlight the “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” ethos but have added another one which is “Rethink” – challenging people to think differently and finding new ways to innovate and new opportunities, whether a small, medium or large retailer.

How important is lightweighting to Walmart’s overall sustainability efforts?
It’s very important to lightweight but we see it as one way of finding opportunities to have more sustainable packaging. Other opportunities are around post-consumer recycled content where we’ve seen examples of 70-100 percent use of post-consumer recycled plastic that doesn’t sacrifice the quality or appearance of the packaging. The most important thing is to challenge and work collaboratively.

What’s still needed going forward is closer communication with the consumer so they understand what we are doing as an industry. This isn’t about asking them to pay a premium for a product but for them to be aware of better packaging, how to dispose of it after use, and to know the great things that our suppliers are doing. We’re looking to pilot some initiatives online, which we think is a better way to provide information to consumers so they can make more informed decisions and be aware. We see our role as making sustainability available to every shopper out there looking to buy their favorite products at an affordable price.