Sustainability

The power of working together

People expect big things from Walmart. And while we recognize our responsibility and opportunity to lead, we also recognize one important idea: What Walmart can do alone is significant, but what we can do together is even better.

With environmental sustainability in particular, this concept is key, and it’s been central to how we’ve approached our work from the beginning. We work with our suppliers, we listen to our customers, we learn from our associates and we engage with leaders. Significantly, we also collaborate with nongovernmental organization (NGOs) and nonprofit organizations on a number of issues.

NGOs provide guidance and expertise – and they hold us accountable. These organizations have pushed us to make bold commitments and helped us deliver on them.

I have worked at the intersection between business and the environment for the past 15 years, most recently at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is through this experience that I understand the value that NGOs can bring to bear on some of the world’s most pressing challenges. A core part of my role is to build strategic alliances and establish public-private partnerships that can deliver value and global impact at scale. Fortunately, Walmart has long standing relationships with many of the leading NGOs who can help us do just that.

At our Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting last month, Peter Seligmann, Chairman and CEO of Conservation International (CI), talked about his experiences with Walmart when we first began our sustainability journey 10 years ago. And CI is one of many NGOs with whom we’ve cultivated a close working relationship.

For example, we were the first corporation to work with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to establish an emissions strategy for our entire supply chain – which encompasses more than 100,000 suppliers across a diversity of sectors around the world. This partnership comprises an integral part of our goal to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from our global supply chain by the end of 2015. Together, we are working with suppliers who provide us all types of products – from toothpaste to lawn mowers and video games – to measure, manage, reduce and report their impact on climate change.

We’ve also spent seven years working closely with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to drive environmentally sustainable practices throughout our supply chain and set new priorities for collaboration, such as sustainable chemistry. In particular, EDF and Walmart are focusing on a global strategy for improving food production and processing in order to mitigate climate impacts and enhance water quality and water efficiency. Most recently, we’ve been addressing fertilizer use. With groceries accounting for half of our sales at Walmart U.S., it’s no wonder that agriculture is a massive opportunity in the area of sustainability. In fact, fertilizer use is responsible for nearly half of Walmart’s carbon footprint in our supply chain. Together with EDF, we are targeting 15 million acres of farmland – comprising 30 percent of food and beverage sales in North America – for optimizing fertilizer practices, which could ultimately avoid 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions as well as improve waterways and soil health.

So, how do we form these relationships? It happens both formally and informally. For instance, we have established a working group who meets every other month, which includes several leading NGOs, such as CDP, CI, EDF, World Resources Institute and WWF. We also develop annual operating plans to define how we are engaging across areas of mutual interest and to scope out emerging opportunities for collaboration.

No matter how these relationships take shape, we rely on our partners to share their knowledge, expertise and perspectives with us, and we’re very excited about the progress they have helped us make. But we, as a company, certainly don’t have all the answers – and we alone can’t make the social and environmental changes that will help ensure a sustainable future for our business and for the planet. To really drive change at scale across the retail industry, multiple entities must pull in the same direction and work together in ways that we haven’t done in the past.

As we at Walmart continue to pursue our big goals, we will also work toward strengthening our relationships with the NGO community. Together, we will keep exploring ways our company can uniquely make a difference – but more importantly, how we can be one of many contributors toward a more sustainable shared future.

 

1 Comment

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. 

Be the first to comment on this article

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.

Be the first to comment on this article

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.

7 Comments

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.

Be the first to comment on this article