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What Does Walmart Know?

Last week I visited Walmart’s annual sustainable packaging conference in Bentonville, Arkansas. I learned that the first such meeting took place in a conference room in Walmart’s headquarters just three years ago and 50 people attended. The 2008 version needed a massive convention center and was bursting at the seams with suppliers, shippers, and buyers of eco-friendly packaging. You can see where this trend is going.

So what does Walmart know that the rest of the world may still be trying to understand? CEO Lee Scott reportedly told his employees and suppliers alike to reduce wasteful, non-recyclable packaging, because Walmart was paying for waste twice - - once when the package came in the door, and once when they paid someone to haul it away from the back of the stores. Walmart saw the opportunity to benefit the environment and their bottom line at the same time.

But how does the world’s largest retailer cut the waste from so many products? They computerized a scorecard, evaluating packaging on a variety of sustainability metrics that flow all the way back down the supply chain. Vendors get a score for the packaging of each item and are then automatically directed to suppliers of products that are more sustainable any time the packaging comes up short.

Walmart took a simple problem - - but a massive one - - and created a clever, self-perpetuating solution. Bottom line? Less waste, more recyclable content (that Walmart now separates and recycles at a profit), better economics, better environment.

Who says you can’t judge a book, or any other product, by its cover?!