The Responsibility to Lead

Council on Foreign Relations

By Mike Duke

December 11, 2012

Council on Foreign Relations

The following is an excerpt of the discussion.Download the full transcript here. 

DOCTOROFF: You know, when I was deputy mayor of New York, we created the New York sustainability plan.

And in coming up with the plan, one of the most difficult tasks was actually to define sustainability. What is -- (inaudible) -- Wal-Mart has a significant effort, I mean, really led sort of the world from a corporate perspective in terms of sustainability, but what does it actually mean to you? How do you define sustainability?

DUKE: And I would probably qualify, Dan, that I think we continue to broaden the expansion of sustainability. But I really start with where we started in sustainability back a few years ago. You know, I would say we started with more of the focus on environment and the sustainability of the planet. We set three big goals, and we're not -- we're not opposed to setting big, aggressive goals on topics like this. 

So a few years ago, we said, we want to be 100 percent supplied by renewable energy as one goal. A second goal would be to create zero waste in our operation. And a third goal would be to create sustainable products for our consumers and for the world and the environment. And, you know, we didn't know how we were going to get there, but we said, let's start this journey, this path with this definition of sustainability by having three goals that we will try to galvanize the organization around. And frankly, my predecessor and I, we spent a lot of time on it. My focus has been to accelerate this area. 

And so this focus on elimination of waste, on energy, on the products we serve has led to just hundreds and hundreds of examples. And even back to your earlier question about tension, sometimes someone will say, this sustainability focus -- you're spending a lot of money on it; is that good for shareholders? And often people will think that's a tension. It's really not, because we have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. 

This has been -- the work on sustainability has been one of the very best things we've done to help the P&L of the company, because eliminating waste is good for the efficiency of operating a business. And this focus on energy and reducing utility cost -- you know, there's nothing wrong with that from a P&L standpoint if we can help to focus on how we install LED lighting -- or one great example that I have to tell you about, because again, this starts with the associates, these 2.2 million people that are -- that are all working on this. 

This is not my idea, because we would have never gotten this plane off the ground if it was depending on me to come up with the ideas, but our logistics organization in the United States -- we have the best truck drivers in the U.S. I think about 8,000 people that drive Wal-Mart trucks across the United States, are, I think, driving about a billion miles. This past year, the group delivered -- I believe it was 68 million more cartons of merchandise to our stores with 25 million fewer miles and saved millions of dollars. 

And so this focus on more efficiency is better for sustainability, better for the planet, helps us to achieve our goals, and it's really not a point of tension or stress, because it's good for shareholders at the same time.