Getting ready for higher fuel costs: Walmart ahead of the curve

“We need to get ready for a world in which energy will only be more expensive, and there will only be a greater need to operate with less carbon in the supply chain.”

Ah, another quote about the upcoming environmental apocalypse!  Tighten your belt in solemn preparation for a world weaned of cheap oil.  As if a business in this economy doesn’t have enough to worry about!

But to put an interesting spin on the issue, what would you say if we told you that’s what Mike Duke, the president of Walmart, had to say to explain a noteworthy turn in Walmart’s marketing plan?  The company intends to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from its supply chain by the year 2015.

An immediate reaction was this:  Since Walmart is such a megapower in the commercial world, this measure will probably affect a negligible number of its suppliers and make little to no impact on total greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, though the measure is not easy to enforce abroad and remains a voluntary choice for businesses that sell to Walmart, Walmart will favor companies adjusting to more efficient practices within the next five years.  This could effect 100,000 sizable businesses, including Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble.  Definitely not small potatoes there.

And in terms of the environment, the cutback is roughly equivalent to taking 3.8 million cars off the road for a year.

What does this have to do with a small business owner along Main Street, PA?  Skeptics doubt that Walmart intends to improve the state of the environment with this campaign.  In their book (or on their blog), it seems like one more power play to rule the marketplace.

Uh… so what?  As long as consumers vote with their dollar, Walmart will get elected again and again because this business refuses to ignore its constituents.  People now seek products that address environmental concerns; for Walmart, an example of that means selling clothing made from faster-drying materials, to reduce automatic dryer usage.  For the small business owner, this means phasing out Styrofoam dishware for paper or recyclable plastics.  Or better yet, providing in-house ceramic dishes that can be cleaned in an Energy Star bulk washer.

Yes, Walmart’s buying power and upfront capital far exceed that of the Main Street store owner.  But Walmart has set the bar far higher for itself and smaller businesses can capitalize on this trend in a relative way.

To read more about Walmart’s consultation with the Environmental Defense Fund to define specific qualifications for its suppliers, read Dominique Browning’s full blog post.  Or watch Walmart’s 45-minute webcast of the announcement.

Time will tell whether Walmart genuinely follows through on its promises.  But the small business owner who holds him or herself personally accountable can act on these objectives in an immediate and tangible way.

We’re interested to know:  How does this affect your opinion of Walmart, the marketplace, and/or how your efforts to create a more sustainable business might be perceived in the future?

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