“Sustainability will change the way we do business around the world—be a part of what’s next” is the tag line Walmart used on every slide presented during their Sustainability Expo and conference held on April 29. FPA attended the Expo held in Bentonville, Arkansas which was another successful sustainability event for the retail giant.  With over 100 exhibitors, about 10 percent were FPA members, and many hundreds of attendees, Walmart provided insights into, and examples of sustainable product and packaging solutions.

Walmart's Executive Vice President for Merchandise Services, John Aden told the large audience during one of the conference sessions held in conjunction with the Expo, that packaging is the source of a lot of breakthroughs in sustainability, and it provides a lens for consumers, the supply chain, and retailers.  While one size does not fit all products, and packaging needs vary, there are common attributes Walmart looks for in packaging.  Aden said that the major drivers for packaging are:

  • to bring products to life with imagery, by closing the gap between physical and visual—which sell more products and leverage the decision tree;
  • to help products flow more efficiently (especially in the last100 feet before purchase)—great packaging enables two to three times the in store labor productivity;
  • to build on a framework of sustainability.

Walmart announced the formation of the Closed Loop Fund, which will be formed by nine core firms and aim to become "an innovative investment vehicle that will help finance projects that increase recycling."Walmart's Jack Sinclair, Executive Vice President of the Grocery Division, discussed the conundrum of supplying more food utilizing few resources, and the fact that the world needs to "engineer less food waste." Additionally, global food security is a challenge which must be met. Providing safe, affordable, sustainable food is what Walmart does.  Sinclair said that Walmart relies on the Sustainability Index developed by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). The index is used on 20 percent of all Walmart categories to compare sourcing practices.  More categories will be added over time.

Walmart wants supply chain visibility and transparency which will lead to better sourcing.  Walmart also believes that customers should not pay more for sustainable products and they will use their scale to drive efficiencies in the system. Several product suppliers shared their success stories in creating more sustainable products, including beef, palm oil, and consumables.

According to Walmart, consumers have told them that they want transparency, they want to know what is in the products, they want safer alternatives, they do not want to pay more for the safer, more sustainable alternative, and they want Walmart to lead, and not wait for the government to mandate sustainability.