The natural world has come under increasing stress from the demands of a growing global population for food, clothing, shelter, energy and livelihoods, among other things. Because our survival as a species depends on natural resources, society faces a collective imperative to preserve them.
While retail does not directly use significant natural resources relative to other industries, product supply chains certainly do. The Sustainability Index points to forests, water and land as scarce natural resources that are particularly at risk due to farming and manufacturing of consumer products.
Walmart aspires to preserve natural resources through conservation and restoration by working with suppliers, industry forums, nonprofit organizations, farmers and governments in business and philanthropic initiatives. We are collaborating to improve farming, manufacturing and sourcing practices to reduce environmental and social impact on forests, water and land. We are also supporting direct conservation. Reshaping supply chains requires collective action, and sustained progress will require all of us to accelerate and increase our efforts.
In addition to being critically important for society, working on this matters to our business in other ways – for supply security, commodity costs and even reputation. Our customers, associates, suppliers and other stakeholders care about preserving nature for themselves as well as future generations.
The following section describes our progress in three of our strategies to preserve natural resources:
- Getting to zero net deforestation
- Promoting a quality water supply
- Conserving land
Getting to zero net deforestation
Forests comprise an important element of our planet’s ecosystems, offering habitat for animal and plant life and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. But forests – especially delicate and diverse tropical rainforests – are particularly vulnerable to agriculture and industry. According to Conservation International, nearly half of the world’s forests have already been lost, and continuing deforestation accounts for 11 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Recent studies also demonstrate that certain agricultural commodities – notably palm oil, soy, cattle and timber – bear responsibility for the majority of deforestation around the world. As part of our participation in the Consumer Goods Forum, (CGF) we are resolved to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. We are also a signatory to the New York Declaration on Forests, which calls for halving the rate of forest loss by 2020. Through these commitments, Walmart is striving to reduce deforestation associated with palm oil, soy, beef and pulp and paper, and we have set goals related to our sourcing of each.
In 2010, Walmart committed to sustainably source any palm oil used in its global private brand products. We are pleased to report that we have achieved this goal. Based on data reported by suppliers, 100 percent of our private brand palm oil was sourced sustainably by the end of 2015, in accordance with the certification standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). In FY2016 palm oil was sourced through a mix of segregated (10 percent), mass balance (18 percent), identity preserved (1 percent), and GreenPalm certificates (71 percent). We currently accept all forms of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil, with the expectation that our markets and suppliers will move to more mass balance and segregated sustainable palm oil as it becomes accessible across the industry.
We are exploring how we can deliver greater impact in keeping with our 2020 CGF commitment. We’re looking at ways to move toward physical certified sources of sustainable palm oil, as well as how we can support an industry-wide movement with our national brand suppliers as the industry
transitions to 100 percent traceability.
This year based on supplier-reported data, we achieved our goal that we would source beef that is free of Amazon deforestation by the end of 2015. One hundred percent of Walmart Brazil’s beef suppliers are now participating in our Beef Risk Monitoring System, which tracks, monitors and promotes responsible ranching and sourcing of beef. Walmart Brazil uses the monitoring program in their purchase orders to source beef that does not contribute to deforestation and that does not originate from conservation units, indigenous lands or embargoed areas. As of January 2016, the System currently includes more than 52,000 registered farms and analyzes more than 200,000 types of data to inform our orders, to better clarify that no beef comes from deforested areas.
Despite this progress, we recognize that there are still major risks of deforestation within our beef supply. These include:
- Indirect purchases. Before cattle arrive at the slaughterhouse, it is possible that they might be traded from high-risk ranches to “approved” ranches or slaughterhouses.
- Administrative loopholes. Ranchers who contribute to deforestation can simply re-register their operations under different names to access clean supply chains.
- Leakage. The cattle agreements cover only activity in the Brazilian Amazon, which leaves other sensitive ecosystems in Brazil and neighboring countries open to deforestation.
We are exploring ways to deepen transparency within our beef-monitoring system by extending our reach to other sensitive biomes, as well as by establishing further traceability.
The CGF has identified soy as one of the commodities for its members to source through deforestation-free channels. Walmart is working collectively through CGF and with our supply chain to achieve this target. Along with other retailers and suppliers operating in Brazil, we supported the Soy Moratorium and supported its extension during the last renewal cycle in 2014. Before the moratorium was enacted, 30 percent of Brazilian soy came from deforested areas. Since the moratorium, that amount has fallen to about 1 percent. Recent analysis by the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that, while no longer clearing forest to plant soy, some farmers have merely switched to other crops. Additionally, the singular focus by the Soy Moratorium on preventing deforestation in the Amazon has led to conversion of other sensitive ecosystems in Brazil, such as the Cerrado. The moratorium also does not include provisions for social issues, such as the protection of indigenous lands or worker health, safety and livelihood. Walmart will continue to work to promote the extension of the Soy Moratorium through engagement with our supply chain, while also attending to its unintended consequences in the Amazon region.
Pulp and paper
In accordance with our 2020 commitment to zero net deforestation, we’re encouraging our paper and packaging suppliers to provide credible assurance that products are sourced sustainably.
Promoting a quality water supply
Compared with other industries – like mining, manufacturing and agribusiness – that extract and consume large quantities of water, retail uses relatively little water directly. At the same time, the products we sell – especially food – can require significant water to produce. For example, nearly 70 percent of the world’s consumption of fresh water goes to agriculture, according to the United Nations. The world’s water systems are increasingly depleted, and we estimate that more than 20 percent of our operations around the world are, or will be, located in regions facing high levels of water stress. We are actively working to preserve the quality and quantity of water available by focusing on:
- Improving efficient water use in our own operations
- Supporting water quality and efficient use in supply chains
Water use in our operations
Walmart’s approach to promoting a quality water supply includes maximizing the efficiency of our water use in our facilities around the world. For example, Wal-Mart de México, one of our largest operations, plays a leading role in water stewardship in our company. We have water initiatives in operation and under development in multiple locations, and, in 2015, we increased our number of on-site water treatment plants to 1,040. These plants helped us treat and reuse 32 percent (1.8 million cubic meters) of our wastewater for toilets and irrigation. Additionally, our Japanese business, Seiyu, reduced water consumption in 2015 by 30 percent, compared with 2010, through a variety of strategies ranging from installing water-saving shower nozzles and handles for store kitchens, to defrosting frozen items in the refrigerator. Throughout our other facilities, we are continuing to explore and implement innovative methods for promoting efficient water use.
Enhancing water efficiency in our supply chain
Since agriculture accounts for approximately 70 percent of global freshwater consumption each year, water efficiency in agriculture is central to promoting water availability, especially in water-stressed regions. Additionally, fertilizer runoff from agriculture into waterways accounts for a major source of pollution affecting fish and wildlife populations, as well as making water more difficult to treat for human consumption. Walmart is working with suppliers to improve water efficiency and fertilizer usage in the supply chain. (See pg. 66 for details of our work on row crops and fertilizer use.)
In addition to our efforts to reduce deforestation and promote water conservation, Walmart has been a leader in land conservation for the past 10 years. Land conversion is largely driven by food production and the demand to feed the growing population. To help prevent land conversion, we are working with suppliers and nonprofits to create more transparency to farm yields and to work on continuous improvement. (see pg. 98 for more information).
Through a collaboration with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in 2005 Walmart helped establish the Acres for America program to conserve lands of national significance, protect critical fish and wildlife habitat and benefit people and local economies. The priorities of the program have included:
- Conserving critical habitats for birds, fish, plants and wildlife
- Connecting existing protected lands to unify wild places and protect migration routes
- Providing access for people to enjoy the outdoors
- Projecting the future of local economies that depend on forestry, ranching and recreation
The program’s original goal was to permanently conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land developed by Walmart stores – approximately 100,000 acres total. As of today, the Acres for America program has conserved more than 10 acres of vital habitat for every acre of land Walmart has developed since the company was founded in 1962. Not only has our goal been achieved, but also, it has been exceeded by a factor of 10. In its first 10 years, the Acres for America program has:
- Protected more than 1 million acres – an area comparable in size to Grand Canyon National Park
- Connected over 10 million acres of protected lands to support landscape-scale conservation and wildlife migration
- Funded 67 projects in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico
- Provided nearly $4 million in emergency response funding to protect fish and wildlife that were immediately threatened by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012
- Restored urban lands and habitats and connected youth to the outdoors by investing more than $1.5 million in community-based projects located in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Bridgeport, Portland (Ore.), Albuquerque and Washington, D.C.
Challenges in preserving natural resources
Transparency in the supply chain
Like other retailers, Walmart does not typically have a relationship with the producers of many agricultural commodities, which makes visibility and transparency difficult. Because of this difficulty, the source of products within the global commodity supply chain is often
limited, making it challenging to pinpoint where issues may arise. Improvements will take time, but we’re working to understand common issues, help suppliers better understand Walmart’s expectations for
safe working conditions and share best practices for sourcing procedures.
Pressure to develop land
To have an impact on the farm requires working with our suppliers, commodity traders, producer associations and, in some instances, the growers themselves. But there is often considerable pressure on all parties, including governments, to develop 100 percent of available land for production. Such pressure can make behavioral change difficult throughout the sector.
The significant underpricing of water in many geographies lowers the financial payback of water projects. In the coming years, with water rates likely increasing and regulations growing tighter, Walmart is well-positioned to effectively manage costs and operational efficiencies. Further, our use of smart technology and industry best practices helps us reduce water usage and adopt new measures that make sense for our operations going forward.