Doing Sustainability Right – Lessons From Whole Foods and Wal-Mart

Written by Bunga

St. George, Utah (7)
health mart
Image by Ken Lund
St. George is a city located in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Utah, and the county seat of Washington County, Utah. It is the principal city of and is included in the St. George, Utah, Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city is 119 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, and 303 miles south of Salt Lake City on Interstate 15.

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, St. George had a population of 72,897. From 1990, St. George became one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas within the United States. This trend continued through 2007, when growth slowed substantially. In 2009, the metropolitan area (defined as Washington County) had an estimated 137,473 residents.

St. George is the population and commercial center of Utah’s Dixie, a nickname given to the area when Mormon pioneers grew cotton in the warm climate. St. George’s trademark is its geology — red bluffs make up the northern part of the city with two peaks covered in lava rock in the city’s center. The northeastern edges of the Mojave Desert are visible to the south. Zion National Park can be seen to the east, and the Pine Valley Mountains loom over the city to the north and northwest. The climate has more in common with the Desert Southwest than the rest of the state, with scorching hot summers and mild, mostly snowless winters.,_Utah…

Industry has a tremendous impact on the environment, and thus, can have a tremendous impact in improving it. As green goes mainstream, companies of all shapes and sizes are looking for ways to incorporate the tenets of sustainability. Be it an office recycling program or a global sustainability initiative, every company has to start somewhere. Fortunately, a few are getting it right, providing lessons for the rest of us.

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods is dedicated to providing quality food in support of an interdependent world. Local producers and suppliers play a key role, providing fresh fruits and vegetables, while furthering the sustainable agriculture industry that promotes ecological health. Through their Local Producer Loan Program, Whole Foods provides low interest loans to the growers that in turn support the grocer’s ability to provide high-quality food in their stores – a strategic investment that benefits Whole Foods. The company also empowers individual buyers to seek out and purchase from sustainable suppliers, engaging them directly in Whole Foods’ pursuit of sustainability.

Wal-Mart competes based on its ability to supply products at a low price – their profit margin is famously low at around 2%. They achieve this by wringing the lowest possible price from suppliers and cutting their own operating costs wherever possible. Their huge revenues are driven by volume. After years of bad press related to these tactics, Wal-Mart has begun receiving accolades for its sustainability policies, even though its competitive strategy has not changed.

How? Wal-Mart has proved the old adage that a penny saved is a penny earned. By looking up its supply chain and requesting a reduction in packaging, suppliers save money on raw materials – savings that can then be passed down to Wal-Mart. Since the competition for shelf space is tough, and Wal-Mart favors suppliers that meet these goals, there is a distinct advantage in compliance. The retailer has also set up systems to benchmark, measure and share what’s being learned. As a result, savings from packaging reduction (coupled with Wal-Mart’s own improvements in logistics) will save the retailer an hundreds of millions each year.

Characteristics of Successful Sustainability Initiatives
Examples such as these illustrate some characteristics shared by successful sustainability programs:
– Green policies directly support business strategies, and are material to the company’s core business
– Core values align with those of its customer base
– Holistic view of sustainability, looking across the company’s entire operation, both up and down the supply chain
– Empower and engage employees through training, knowledge sharing, and reward/competition systems
– Encourage change in supply chain: share goals and knowledge, help suppliers meet goals and reward those that do
– Establish benchmarking and measurement systems
– Communicate results – both wins and challenges – to all stakeholders

Whether you’re looking to green your office or take a multinational corporation down the path to sustainability, know that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel – learn from those that have gone before you.

Copyright 2009 Cassie Walker, The Sustainable Office

Author Cassie Walker is the creator of The Green Office Handbook: A Practical Guide to Greening Your Office, a one-stop resource for offices looking to lower their environmental impact while saving money. It includes templates for tracking your progress, sample communications, and hundreds of ideas for greening your office, all in an upbeat, easy-to-follow format. Categories include paper, waste and recycling, energy, water, transportation, and more. Cassie also runs Three Elements Consulting, LLC, working directly with companies to advance social and environmental change.

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