Wal-Mart Eyes Sustainability

Wal-Mart Takes Another Step Towards Food Sustainability

 By RP Siegel | August 29th, 2011

It appears that retail giant Wal-Mart is ready to take another step on its sustainability journey. Sourceswithin the food industry are reporting that Wal-Mart is planning to begin collecting data from its fruit and vegetable vendors in order to assess the sustainability of their operations.

This is a continuation of Wal-Mart’s initiative rolled out last fall in which they pledged to support farmers and their communities by selling $1 billion worth of food from one million small and medium farmers who will be trained in sustainability practices. This move will effectively double the amount of locally grown food they sell in the US, while increasing revenue to smaller farmers by 10-15%.

They also pledged to produce more food with fewer resources and less waste by investing over $1 billion in their food supply chain over the next five years and reducing food waste in their stores.

Furthermore they pledged to seek more sustainable sources for foods such as palm oil for all of their private branded products and beef from sources that do not contribute to rainforest deforestation.

The metrics announcement stems from the 2011 Sustainable Food Lab Leadership Summit which met in late June. Wal-Mart is working with and seeking input from the Sustainability Consortium which is jointly administered by the University of Arkansas and Arizona State University. A substantial portion of the metrics they will use were developed by the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC), which was also mentioned as part of last fall’s announcement when the company pledged to “accelerate the agricultural focus of the Sustainability Index, beginning with a Sustainable Produce Assessment for top producers in its Global Food Sourcing network in 2011.”

SISC is a multi-stakeholder initiative to develop a system for measuring sustainability performance throughout the specialty crop supply chain which includes fruits, vegetables, nuts and horticulture. In addition to retail food buyers such as Wal-Mart and Wegmans, other stakeholders include growers and their representative associations, large food producers such as Heinz and Del Monte, packers, shippers, distributors, government agencies, academics and NGO’s including Defenders of Wildlife and the World Wildlife Fund. More than 400 representatives of these groups have joined the effort since its inception.

SISC’s core operating principles include:

  • Avoiding duplication of efforts
  • Realizing that we will achieve more through a collaborative effort that includes all supply chain stakeholders
  • Creating metrics that are performance-based, non-prescriptive, allowing individual operators to innovate
  • Maintaining an open and transparent process