The concept of sustainability has become an important one for many major corporations. Sustainability refers to companies operating in a way that is cognizant of limited resources and causes as little damage as possible to the local and global communities as possible. One company that has in recent years been compelled to address this issue is Walmart Corporation. During the 80s and 90s, Walmart Corporation frequently claimed that its business practices were sustainable and environmentally friendly. It even set up token programs in this area, although they were short-lived. Moreover, Walmart has been the target of a number of attacks and legal challenges from activist groups regarding its behavior toward its suppliers in developing nations, its employees in the United States and the communities in which it operates. The following examines the recent history of sustainability at Walmart, the steps it has taken over the last decade and a half, the accusations that have been laid against it regarding its unsustainable behaviors and the end results of its efforts to change.
When Lee Scott assumed control of Walmart for that. During the time Lee Scott was in control of Walmart (2000-2009), he introduced a new strategy designed to make Walmart business operations, and in particular its logistical operations, more sustainable. It was Scott's opinion that the two goals of profitability and sustainability did not have to be incompatible (MSNBC, 2005, Web). An important part of Walmart's goal of sustainable practices was the concept of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). CSR policies would allow the company to take responsibility for the effect their operations have on consumers, employees, communities and the environment.
Creating sustainability throughout the Walmart distribution systems would require having clearly laid out criteria for such activities with them the company and with its global suppliers. In a 2005 speech Scott gave to all of Walmart's employees and suppliers, he summarized Walmart's new sustainability initiatives and established three primary sustainability goals (Plambeck, 2007, Web):
Walmart also decided to reach out to its various external stakeholders to determine how they can work with them to have the maximum positive affect on the environment and to develop networks that will allow them to accomplish such goals. Those suppliers who chose to participate in such value added networks would have the benefit of having greater access to information about Walmart's operations and more of a say in those operations. Again though, such efforts are not entirely altruistic and philanthropic, since the goal is to still achieve financial benefits while carrying out environmentally sound and sustainable activities (Gentry, 2012, p. 16). Even in the early stages of this program, there was significant success in this regard. For instance, during the first year of Walmart sustainability efforts, these new networks created savings that were equivalent to the revenues of several Walmart supercenters (Webber, 2014, Web).
Many long-term critics of Walmart have not been convinced by the "changes" that Walmart has introduced. There is a good deal of evidence to support their contentions that Walmart's changes are largely cosmetic in nature. The ongoing pressure that Walmart places on its suppliers, essentially forcing them to relinquish all but the most minimal profit is evidence of this. Certainly, it is clear clear that Walmart is attempting to improve its brand image in an area in which it has long been regarded as being one of the worst in the industry. However, many outsiders question the sincerity of the company's statements given its ongoing actions and decisions. For instance, only this week Walmart made the decision that it would close 154 stores in the United States. Furthermore, he decided it would not build a number of stores that it'd previously promised to construct, including two in the Washington DC area that would have provided welcome relief for citizens living in "shopping deserts." Furthermore, these stores (both the ones that were closed and the ones that were never open) provided thousands of jobs. One of the most disturbing aspects of the decision not to build the DC stores was that it seems to been largely based on a reluctance to pay a higher minimum wage to employees (Jamieson, 2016, Web).
The efforts that Walmart is proposing would place it at the forefront of the retail industry when it comes to sustainability and environmental protection, assuming it actually follows through on them. However, while many within the Walmart Corporation have become quite confident about the sustainability initiatives the company is carrying out, the history of such efforts within the industry does provide cause for concern. Many observers of similar efforts at other corporations believe that Walmart sustainability effort is itself unsustainable. Many major corporations that have attempted to introduce a more "green" approach to its operations have found that the upfront and ongoing costs are considerable and just not worth the perceived benefits (if any). For instance, Walmart is going to have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in order to achieve the goals that Scott laid out in his aforementioned speech. Furthermore, the idea that long-term savings will be achieved does not necessarily convince stakeholders, and in particular the suppliers, that Walmart is making the correct decision.
This paper has outlined what Walmart is doing and planning to do to become a more sustainable business, and how this initiative may differ from those previously carried out by Walmart. Walmart has taken a number of steps in this new initiative, including delineating exactly what did specific goals will be, working with its suppliers and creating value networks. The above is also made clear that while there have been certain financial benefits and clear environmental and sustainability accomplishments, the long-term viability of this effort is uncertain (Meeks et al, 2011, p. 66). Many other companies have made similar attempts and have ultimately failed or abandoned such efforts. If Walmart is going to succeed in its sustainability efforts, it needs to invest sufficient time, money, resources to ensure that this is not simply another token effort or failed experiment.
Gentry, C. R. (2012). Walmart at 50: The largest retailer in the world takes a 360-degree view of sustainability. Chain Store Age, 88(4), 14-16,18-19.
Jamieson, D. (2016, January 18). Walmart is walking away from the poor d.c. residents it agreed to serve. Retrieved January 19, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/walmart-jobs- washington_us_
Meeks, M., & Chen, Rachel J C, Ph,D., C.H.E. (2011). Can walmart integrate values with value?: From sustainability to sustainable business. Journal of Sustainable Development, 4(5), 62-66.
MSNBC. (2005). Is Wal-Mart going green? MSNBC, Oct. 25, 2005. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9815727
Plambeck, Erica. (2007). The greening of wal-mart’s supply chain. Supply Chain Management Review, July 1, 2007. Web. http://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_greening_of_wal_mart
Webber, L. (2014). Walmart will use its size to improve food sustainability: Sinclair. Supermarket News, Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1624897121? accountid=2163