Sustainability

Nature - we can't live without it

© Benjamin Drummond

Conservation International Vice Chair Harrison Ford says it best: "Nature doesn't need people. People need nature." Think about it. Could any of us survive without what nature provides us – freshwater, food, lifesaving medicines, fertile soil and natural pollinators? The answer is no. Today, the majority of people on Earth live in cities, seemingly far removed from the sources of our food, water, energy and material goods. Yet it is all interconnected: a massive storm in Asia or a drought in Africa can threaten the supply chains that Walmart customers depend upon. Walmart understands this and 10 years ago it led the way by embracing the concept of sustainability.

With its sustainability goals in renewable energy, zero waste and supply chains, it is an unparalleled leader in this area. As the world's largest retailer, when Walmart takes an action it can have a larger impact than many nations. Walmart has taken sustainability from an afterthought in the corporate board room to an integral part of its business plan. Other companies see this and are realizing that incorporating sustainability into their own plans is the smart way to do business.

I had the pleasure of speaking at Walmart’s Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting yesterday and I could see and hear the commitment of everyone in the room – from corporate leaders to associates – to the company's sustainability goals. We at Conservation International have had the honor of partnering with Walmart for 10 years and we look forward to many more decades of working together to protect the natural capital that we all depend on. I like to say that it is in the enlightened self-interest of nations, businesses, communities – all of us – to protect nature.

 Over the next four decades, as the world’s population grows from seven billion to over nine billion, the demand for food, water and energy will double. Our already stressed planet will become more so as an increasing amount of nature's resources are depleted. At the rate we are going, we will need two Earth's to provide for us. Walmart understands the value of nature and can help spread the word to nations and other businesses so that they too will see the value and be willing to protect nature. More businesses and nations need to understand that there is a direct connection between nature, human well-being and our economic and national security. Who would have guessed 10 years ago that Walmart would become a global leader in sustainability? What an amazing evolution! What a gift to all the world.

Let me be clear: the challenge is daunting. Walmart has the opportunity, once again, to lead the way. Innovation must be at the heart of solving these problems and Walmart has the history of success, as well as the relationships with partners across the planet, to push the search for innovative solutions to ensure sustainable supply chains. I am optimistic about the future and the growing understanding that societies require, at their very foundation, a vibrant and healthy natural world. Focusing on ecosystem health and vitality is both good for business and truly in the enlightened self-interest of us all.

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Community

Bakers Rise Above Small Business Setback

Bake and decorate 1,000 cupcakes in two hours. That was the final challenge Southern Girl Desserts co-owners Catarah Coleman and Shoneji Robison faced when they competed on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”

As the last bakers standing, the duo took home the top prize and the title “Cupcake Wars Champions.” But the TV competition was a piece of cake compared to some of the challenges these entrepreneurs have faced since founding their Southern-inspired bakery in Los Angeles in 2007. Like many small business owners, they had the drive, ingenuity and grit to be successful, but they struggled to access the capital they needed.

Both Catarah and Shoneji had too much pride to ask their families for money to start their business, so they launched using personal savings. Eventually their families helped out, as Southern Girl Desserts was growing and doing well. They got an opportunity to develop a location in a high-traffic mall, but because the move would require building out the space and hiring new employees, they needed more funding.

While Southern Girl Desserts and its owners had banking relationships, banks would not loan them the working capital they needed. They found a broker who arranged $45,000 in financing from a lender they had never heard of, and they had the money within a week. For a while everything flowed, but when business slowed due to seasonal changes, and they realized the interest rate was exorbitant, they couldn’t keep up payments.

“We didn’t realize interest rates were over 50%,” Catarah said. “And that put us in a really hard place.”

Despite their payment issues, they continued to receive offers for more loans and accepted them, hoping an infusion of capital would ease their tight finances. However, as they sank deeper into debt, they quickly realized that the loan payments were eating their profits, and, despite increasing revenue at their new location, Southern Girl Desserts didn’t even have the money to pay their 14 employees.  

That’s when they found Opportunity Fund, a Sam’s Club Giving Program grantee. Opportunity Fund offers reasonable interest rates and works with businesses to match the right loan product to the business need.

Opportunity Fund helped Southern Girl Desserts refinance its debt, which gave them cash flow and a better way to managing their business overall. They now credit Opportunity Fund and Sam’s Club with saving their business.

In celebration of National Small Business Week, Sam’s Club is making another big investment in small business success.  As part of the Small Business Economic Mobility Initiative announced last year, the Sam’s Club Giving Program is awarding $8.8 million in new grants to nonprofits committed to helping small business owners — especially women, minorities and veterans.

By bringing together expertise, initiatives such as the recently announced Business Lending Center and philanthropic investments, Sam’s Club and Sam’s Club Giving are helping small businesses like Southern Girl Desserts achieve their dreams. 

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Sustainability

In eCommerce Packaging, Sometimes More Equals Less

About a year ago, Walmart assembled a team from all over the company to focus on ways we could continue improving the online shopping experience. The feedback we received was tremendously helpful, but there was a surprise. An overwhelming majority of customers took it upon themselves to elaborate on an unsolicited topic: The size of our boxes.

Over and over again, our customers expressed a desire for us to reduce our packaging. That’s what they were talking about, so we immediately shifted our focus to follow their lead. And that shift has created the potential for huge results.

In the world of e-commerce, several factors have to be taken into account when reducing packaging. Because these items are being shipped great distances and handled multiple times, we must ensure the proper amount of cushion and protection. Ultimately, it’s about the product arriving at its destination undisturbed.

Through data analysis and extensive testing of potential solutions, we’ve developed a way to improve cardboard box utilization by more than 30%, without sacrificing product protection. If scaled over our entire e-commerce operation in the U.S., this effort has the potential to reduce cardboard box consumption by 7.2 million cubic feet annual, roughly enough to fill 82 Olympic-size swimming pools. It also translates into the ability to pack more products into the tractor-trailers we put on the road.

We took everything from order trends and history, to the size of boxes used at our fulfillment centers, into account. We developed several new box sizes and put them to the test – first with a couple of hundred orders, then with 10,000 orders. Then we piloted the program across an entire fulfillment center and, ultimately, concluded we could maximize efficiency by expanding our assortment of box sizes from 12 to 27.

Soon, we’ll implement the program at a second e-commerce fulfillment center and, eventually, across the organization. But the key to success will be our ability to customize the program to the needs and orders of every facility. In fact, this program will have to be continuously monitored and adjusted to meet changing needs. What is achievable at one facility with an assortment of 27 boxes may require an assortment of 40 boxes at another. And we’re up to that challenge.

The bottom line is, we recognized an opportunity by listening to our customers, and we acted on it. Great things happen when you take time to listen.

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Business

Offering Customers More at the Door

Of all the aspects that make up a great shopping experience, there’s one that sets the tone right away: The first few steps inside the door.

We’ve been working to welcome customers to an improved Walmart for some time now, and of the countless details we’ve taken a look at, a key piece has been better utilizing an important role – our greeters. Last year, we launched a pilot program that in many stores, moved our greeters from action alley back to the front door, and in others, introduced a brand-new position: customer host, an associate who greets customers, but also checks receipts where appropriate, assists with returns and helps keep entrances clean and safe.

The reaction was positive. In stores with the new customer host role, customers said they liked easily spotting someone to go to for help and advice. Part of this is because our customer host stands out by wearing a yellow vest.

This pilot program was successful so we’ll begin rolling out these changes to all of our U.S. stores by mid-summer.

We know a one-size-fits-all-approach to our door coverage won’t work for our more than 5,000 stores. To help ensure each store has the coverage it needs, we’re using data on safety, security and shrink risks to guide us on  how best to staff our entrances. Where our data tells us the risk is higher, we’ll add the new customer host. We expect to fill about 9,000 of these new hourly positions that are specially trained to both welcome customers as soon as they walk in and also help deter would-be shoplifters.

Greeters are a big part of our company and culture, and that’s why in the majority of our U.S. stores we will continue to rely on them to be the helpful first face customers see. In stores where we alternatively have customer hosts, we’re giving our current greeters the ability to apply for these new roles, other positions at their store or Walmart locations nearby. During the pilot phase, more than 80% of the affected associates were able to find new positions – including many promotions. For those who didn’t choose to stay, we offered severance pay, which we continue to offer as we move this program nationwide.

Providing customers with an excellent first impression is part of Walmart’s broader strategy to ensure simpler, more convenient shopping.  Focusing more on our greeters is one of a whole host of details we’re looking at – it just happens to be a very visible one.

While the number of stores in the pilot phase of this program was too small for us to glean exhaustive data, we’re confident that taking it to a larger group of stores will continue to support the progress we’re making in customer experience.

And knowing that our customers are truly feeling the difference? That’s the kind of first impression we’re working hard to turn into a lasting one.

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Opportunity

The Family Tree That Flourished at Walmart

When I applied for a part-time job at Walmart 22 years ago, it was to earn a little extra money for the holidays. It really was as simple as that – or so I thought.

I quickly came to love the people I was surrounded by. Walmart was new to California at the time, so I didn't know a lot about the company. But what I did know was that the people I worked with at my store in Anaheim made it fun. They were like family and that mattered to me.

What began as an opportunity to earn a few extra bucks during the holidays immediately became a full-time job. As I continued to grow my career, my kids grew up with Walmart. They would always stop by after school, so everyone got to know them. The store manager even nicknamed my son, Anthony, the “Tuna Helper,” because he once vowed to help us sell every box of Tuna Helper on the shelves.

Fast-forward more than two decades, and Anthony has gone from Tuna Helper to holding the keys of a supercenter in Irvine. My heart swelled late last year, when Anthony was named manager of his very own store, because he has lived and breathed Walmart since he was a kid. He began as a photo lab associate while attending college and – after a few years away from the company – returned to serve as department manager, assistant manager, co-manager and more at a variety of stores.

But Anthony’s success is just the beginning of our family’s story.

When my brother-in-law lost his job of 30 years, he became a hardware department manager at a supercenter in La Habra. My daughter works as a pharmacy tech in La Habra, and my youngest, Aerin, could very well follow in our footsteps. Even I have to admit that all this could seem a bit made up, but the story that takes the cake is the fact Walmart set the stage for Anthony to meet his future wife and start a family of his own.

I’ll never forget the day Anthony – then a photo lab associate – told me he had a crush on a girl working in the shoe department. So, after talking with Heather’s mom, who also worked at the store, I decided to take a spin by to meet her. We struck up a conversation – and I may or may not have urged her to check out the young man in the photo lab. Several years later, Anthony and Heather are happily married Walmart associates, with two beautiful children.

It really doesn't get any better than that. From day one, Walmart has provided my family and I with much more than jobs. It’s where we’ve found opportunities to grow individually and together. It’s where we continue to make memories we wouldn't trade for anything.

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