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Walmart sets example in sustainability fight

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In the last issue of MMR, this space was devoted to the clear and present danger of climate change, and the responsibility that retailers have for doing everything they can to help alleviate the crisis. Walmart is one of the companies that has risen to the challenge, continually finding new ways to make its operations more efficient and sustainable.

The company unveiled another round of environmental measures during its annual Associates and Shareholders Week in northwest Arkansas at the beginning of June. Taken together, the changes are designed to cut down packaging waste, in particular plastic, related to orders placed online.

Going forward, almost all products previously shipped in plastic mailers from stores and distribution centers, as well as items handled by Walmart Fulfillment Services, will be sent out in recyclable paper packaging. Amplified by the sheer volume of Walmart’s business, the seemingly small change will eliminate 65 million plastic mailers in the United States by the end of the fiscal year, according to executives.

In addition, shoppers will be given the option of dispensing with single-use plastic bags when they pick up online orders. The program, the rollout of which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, is expected to lead to a further multimillion-unit reduction in plastic bag utilization.

Walmart’s concurrent shift to new technology across half of its fulfillment network will enable the creation of packaging custom fit to each individual order. Executives indicate that the change will reduce waste resulting from oversized boxes by 26% and cut the need for packaging filler by 60%. A tool that gives customers the option of consolidating online orders and the deployment of artificial intelligence to make last-mile delivery more efficient round out the initiatives.

Significant in and of themselves, the company’s latest steps should be seen as building blocks that will help Walmart achieve its overarching sustainable development objectives. 

“We’ve got goals to enhance energy security and affordability for our business and our customers while helping the company achieve our science-based target for zero emissions in our operations by 2040,” says Kathleen McLaughlin, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer. “This year, we’ve reported a cumulative 23% reduction in our emissions relative to our 2015 baseline.”

Of course, no single company, not even the world’s largest, can turn the tide against climate change. Walmart is, however, making substantial contributions to the fight and, in so doing, providing an example of good corporate citizenship that other retailers should emulate. Concerted action by businesses around the world will go a long way toward ensuring a sustainable future for everyone.


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