Where is Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index?
Launched to the world in a hail of publicity last year, Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index passed its first birthday in July with barely a whisper, leaving many industry observers pondering where exactly it has gone to.
The mood was perfectly summed up by Joel Makower, Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com: "There is both more and less going on here than meets the eye. One year later, I’m sticking to that story."
Wal-Mart announced last year that it would assess its suppliers on environmental and social criteria. It announced a Sustainable Product Index to "establish a single source of data for evaluating the sustainability of products". The giant retailer said it would introduce the initiative in three phases, beginning with a survey of its more than 100,000 suppliers around the world. The survey includes 15 questions that "serve as a tool for Wal-Mart’s suppliers to evaluate their own sustainability efforts".
Furthermore, Wal-Mart was an integral partner in the launch of the Sustainability Consortium, a group of universities that promised to collaborate with suppliers, retailers, NGOs and government to develop a global database of information on the lifecycle of products – from raw materials to disposal.
The hope for Wal-Mart was that it could translate the Consortium’s data into a simple rating for consumers about the sustainability of products – "the ultimate dream of green-minded shoppers" as Makower puts in.
"It was, as my colleague Marc Gunther described it at the time, ‘an ambitious, comprehensive, and fiendishly complex plan to measure the sustainability of every product it sells’," he said. "Wal-Mart’s sustainability dreams don’t appear to have diminished, though I’m pretty sure the company has been humbled by the fiendish complexity of it all."
According to Makower who has watched this unfold and spoken to those inside "Wal-Mart, the Consortium, and several of its major suppliers", it is clear that the reality of a comprehensive and simple rating of products and companies remains elusive.
"Wal-Mart has fundamentally changed the conversation about products and sustainability in general, and about the environmental impacts of supply chains in particular. It has shifted the notion of green consumerism from the margins to the mainstream – from a relatively elite group of relatively upscale shoppers to the mass market that Wal-Mart serves."
Makower also believes that Wal-Mart’s move has "enlivened the conversation around supply chain environmental management".
"There’s not a single business conference, green or otherwise, I’ve attended or spoken at over the past year in which Wal-Mart hasn’t been a topic of conversation, whether on stage or in the hallways. Wal-Mart is by no means the first or only company to press suppliers to reduce their environmental impacts, but its aggressive, highly visible efforts have gotten the attention of companies and sectors that thought they might somehow be unaffected.
"But, as I said, the complexity of assessing companies and products has befuddled Wal-Mart and the Consortium, and has engendered resistance and pushback by some leading suppliers, even a few of the roughly 50 members that have joined the Consortium. Simply put, the reality isn’t living up to the launch-day hype."
Tyvek tops lifecycle analysis study
A recent study has concluded that packaging material Tyvek is more environmentally friendly than cardboard or low-density polyethylene (LDPE).
A recent study by BIO Intelligence Service of France – admittedly commissioned by Tyvek manufacturer, Dupont – showed that Tyvek beats cardboard on 11 key measures of environmental performance and outperforms LDPE on ten of those measures.
"The results were a real eye-opener," said Bill Callcut, European Product Manager at Bong, the European manufacturer of Tyvek mail packaging. They tell us that packaging buyers and specifiers should look at the bigger picture – a lifecycle analysis – if they want to avoid making faulty green choices."
The BIO Intelligence Service study compared mailing materials that offer protection to bulky or valuable non-fragile contents. It compared standard Tyvek mailing pieces, as well as those with gussets, against pieces made from cardboard or 150µm LDPE. The chosen method – lifecycle analysis – tested performance in several key areas. Tyvek performed better than cardboard on every measure, and better than LDPE on most of them. LDPE scored better for ozone depletion only.
In terms of energy consumption, the study found that, during its total lifecycle, Tyvek requires up to 80 percent less energy than cardboard and up to 33 percent less than LDPE.
"Any packaging material that combines environmental benefits with cost savings scores twice over," said Callcut.
He added: "Cost savings are an easy argument to get across to packaging buyers, but it’s harder to convince them that Tyvek is better for the environment on a wide range of measures. To persuade buyers that they should switch from cardboard or LDPE, we have to show that the lifecycle analysis gives a more accurate picture of the environmental advantages."
Mondi tops WWF paper ratings
Mondi heads a list of companies participating in a new WWF voluntary rating tool for paper companies.
The WWF’s Paper Company Environmental Index reports the global ecological footprint of paper manufacturers and assesses their performance against key environmental criteria.
Domtar, M-real, Stora Enso and UPM join Mondi on the list although many of the industry’s biggest players, including giants such as International Paper and Sappi, have yet to take part. The WWF hopes that in time this will change.
Harri Karjalainen, WWF’s Pulp and Paper Programme Manager said: "Other fine paper and tissue companies, particularly those in North and South America and Asia, are invited to follow suit and show their boards of directors, business partners, shareholders, investors, paper buyers and communities what they have done to reduce their global ecological footprint."
He added: "We hope this new online tool can promote some healthy competition within the paper industry. Who can achieve the lightest footprint-
Karjalainen described the participating companies as at the vanguard of a more sustainable industry. The top ranking Mondi was commened for its responsible procurement, its removal of controversial timber supply sources and its current level of FSC-certified fibre content for fine paper production. Its CEO, David Hathorn, has also called for other company’s to join the scheme.
"We hope that the index will attract many global paper companies as it provides an opportunity for participating companies to present progress they continue to make in reducing the impact of their operations on the environment."
The results and profiles can be found at: www.panda.org/PaperCompanyIndex
Fatigue in UK businesses
Research conducted by Loudhouse on behalf of Kyocera has shown that levels of environmental concern among the UK’s office workers have fallen over the past two years.
The survey into attitudes towards environmental issues amongst UK businesses found that the percentage of UK employees stating that they were personally concerned about environmental issues fell from a peak of 77 percent in 2008 to 63 percent in 2010. When asked specifically about the issue of climate change, the figures were even starker, with concern down to 50 percent from 65 percent in 2008.
Despite the drop in personal environmental concern, the survey showed some encouraging signs that environmental responsibility is becoming ingrained in the corporate, if not in the personal, psyche.
The economic downturn appears to have had little negative effect on environmental initiatives being carried out by organisations, with 25 percent of respondents stating that they had actually carried out more environmental activities than originally planned as a result of a focus on reducing energy costs.
Depot opens LEED
Office Depot has opened its first store registered as a green building project under LEED standards for commercial interiors – the latest move in the company’s programme to make its sites more environmentally friendly.
Although the store in Austin, Texas, still awaits certification, the Boca Raton-based retailer says it will open 14 others with commercial interiors designed to LEED standards before the end of the year, and it will seek certification for all of them.
By designing store interiors to LEED-CI standards, Office Depot extends its green building programme to existing structures.
In January 2009, capping more than a year of prototype development, Office Depot became the first retailer to receive LEED-Gold pre-approval of a design prototype for green stores built from scratch.
Under the USGBC volume certification programme, companies that obtain design approval of their building plan can expedite the review process and quickly finalise certification of any structure constructed according to the plan.
Office Depot has said it intends to use its prototype for any store construction project that it manages from the ground up.