Sustainability

Seeking: Leading Companies to Drive Renewable Energy Revolution

Editor's Note: Earlier this month, Walmart joined Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis, Procter and Gamble, REI, and Sprint in signing the Renewable Energy Buyer’s Principles. The goal of these Principles is to increase availability of cost-competitive renewable energy to run their businesses and better communicate their purchasing needs and expectations to the marketplace. 

What can rotary dial telephones, cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and door to door milk delivery teach us about the renewable energy revolution? They show us how once commonplace products and services have and will always be replaced by newer ones. It’s not farfetched to say 2014 is to renewable energy what 1955 was to the CRT TV – the golden age of renewable energy is just now upon us.

Many of America’s largest companies are also convinced that a clean energy future is what they want, and they’ve set significant goals to get there. In fact, 43% of Fortune 500 companies have set renewable energy and efficiency targets, and – better still – 60% of the Fortune 100 have set targets.

These corporations are demonstrating real progress toward their goals. For example, Mars, Inc., a food company known for its chocolate products, recently announced that it will build a 200-megawatt (MW) wind farm in Lamesa, TX, which, according to Mars, is the largest long-term commitment to renewable energy made by any food manufacturing business in the U.S. We read about other large deals nearly every day.

In the process of switching to renewable energy, companies have gained a great deal of experience. Unfortunately, this transition hasn’t been easy. Utilities have been slow to respond to their major customers’ needs. When the companies bypass their utilities to purchase renewable energy elsewhere, they are having successes, but face complex deals and financing arrangements making it hard to buy renewables at the scale they need.

What do the companies want? The companies want utilities, utility regulators, and providers of renewable energy to understand that they have large demand for clean renewable energy. The system that exists now makes it difficult to meet their goals. But companies are willing, and in many cases would prefer to work with all these key players to make renewable energy available more quickly.

In every other aspect of their business, companies are used to a competitive market for the commodities they buy. The best quality goods at the most favorable terms win the contract. However, where energy is concerned -- and particularly renewable energy -- companies have far fewer choices. In many markets, companies have no choice at all. In others, choices are extremely limited or require a price premium over fossil-fuel produced energy, in quantities too small to meet the company needs, and subject to ongoing price volatility. All in all, this hinders companies’ ability to meet their renewable energy targets and discourages the setting of more ambitious targets. We should be rewarding these corporate leaders trying to do the right thing with their energy use, not slowing them down.

On the upside, there is a huge opportunity available to utilities and renewable energy providers who can bring companies what they need. The companies that have signed onto the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles alone account for 8.4 million megawatt hours of demand per year, enough electricity to power nearly 800,000 homes each of the next few years. Many of these companies would prefer to meet this need by purchasing renewable electricity through their local utility companies, but if utility companies are unable to provide it, they are -- and will -- continue to go elsewhere.

A more robust, open renewable energy market with innovative tariffs would create the competition needed to encourage other companies to set and meet aggressive renewable targets, something that would literally benefit the entire planet. If that sounds like a good idea to you, we welcome more companies to sign onto the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles.

Intrigued? Shoot me an email and we’ll talk about meeting your company’s renewable energy targets. For utility regulators, it’s time to find out what your customers want and find a way to meet that need. If you don’t, someone else will.

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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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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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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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Health & Wellness

Walmart Associate Conquers North Pole Marathon

Some people will go a long way to support charity. For Dorn Wenninger, vice president of global food sourcing for Walmart U.S., not even the North Pole is too far.

Dorn was one of 56 runners from 21 countries who participated in the 14th annual North Pole Marathon on April 9. Dubbed the “World’s Coolest Marathon,” the 26.2-mile race not only challenges endurance athletes with its snow-covered, icy terrain and bone-chilling weather, it also supports a variety of worthy causes with hundreds of thousands of dollars raised each year.

Crossing the finish line after five hours and 17 minutes, Dorn captured first place and secured his spot in an exclusive group of 428 people worldwide who have completed the marathon since 2002.

This year’s competitors ran to raise money for a variety of causes worldwide. Dorn, who has been with Walmart almost six years, serves on the boards of two nonprofit organizations: Cobblestone Farm in Northwest Arkansas and Amigos de las Americas. He will continue to raise money for Cobblestone Farm, which produces organic produce that is then donated to local food banks.

“I’m passionate about healthy eating, farming and produce,” he said.

His passion also extends to running. In January, he participated in a marathon in Trinidad and Tobago, where the temperature was 130 degrees warmer than the lowest temperature he experienced while at the North Pole.

Knowing that running on snow and ice would be different, he trained for the North Pole event on dirt and gravel trails. But the terrain wasn’t his only concern. With temperatures between -25 and -43 degrees Fahrenheit, his respiration froze and built up on his face mask. He used three different masks throughout the five-hour run and ended up with early signs of frost bite on his nose.

His North Pole adventure was supposed to last one and half days, but a crack in the runway prevented Dorn from flying out for three days. Despite the delay, he said the trip was an amazing experience.

Running is a great way to deal with stress, he said – even on 6 feet of ice floating on 14,000 feet of Arctic Ocean. It also can have a positive impact on other areas of life, from personal to business.

“Achieving the seemingly impossible helps demonstrate that almost anything is possible, even when others don’t believe it is,” he said. “Determination, focus and persistence go a long way in achieving goals.”

Dorn never imagined he’d win the North Pole race, but with that victory in hand, he now has his eye on a few other challenges just as difficult – or more so.

“It's incredible what people are capable of when they put their mind to it,” he said. “The thought of running a marathon at the North Pole sounds so extreme that it's virtually unbelievable. I welcomed the challenge of proving, to myself, that it is possible.”

Photos courtesy of North Pole Marathon.

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