Looking Ahead to Climate Week: A Call to Collective Action

Field of lettuce with sun peeking over the hills

Sept. 19, 2019
By Kathleen McLaughlin, EVP and Chief Sustainability Officer, Walmart Inc.

As people head to New York for next week’s Climate Action Summit, conversation has turned to the irony of emitting carbon to attend a gathering largely focused on how to reduce carbon. So…why do I believe it is important to participate? Three reasons:

Acceleration. The Climate Action Summit aims to raise ambition and spur practical action across government, business, and civil society to bend the curve on emissions by bringing together leading practitioners to share their most innovative ideas. Two years ago, Walmart became the first retailer to announce approved Science-Based Targets for emissions reduction in our own operations and in our supply chain through what we call Project Gigaton (through which we engage suppliers in efforts aiming to avoid 1 billion metric tons of emissions in our collective value chains by 2030).

The good news: to date, we are on track. In our 2019 ESG Report, we noted a 6.1% decline in our Scope 1 and 2 emissions between 2015 and 2017; and through Project Gigaton, suppliers have reported avoiding 93 million metric tons of emissions so far.

The challenging news: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the world needs to land not just well below 2 degrees of warming but below 1.5 degrees of warming, requiring “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in how society functions. Conversation next week will focus on opportunities to help slow warming through innovative approaches to energy, buildings, transport, natural capital, production of goods, and life in cities. As well, we will discuss issues facing planetary systems in addition to climate, such as forests, oceans, fresh water, and biodiversity – and how businesses can help.

On my mind heading into next week: what would it take for everyone to reduce emissions in line with a 1.5 degree warming scenario? What would it take for, say, food supply chains to become carbon neutral? And how can we incorporate new aspirations for nature into already-ambitious climate action programs?

Collaboration. Despite the intention of the US government to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, We Are Still In – along with thousands of businesses, cities, states, faith groups, and other organizations. Walmart has sought to lead on climate by encouraging participation of our suppliers in Project Gigaton; to date, over 1000 Walmart suppliers worldwide have committed to reduce emissions through practical initiatives related to energy, waste, sustainable agriculture, deforestation, packaging, and product design. Through such initiatives, Walmart and our suppliers are collaborating with other companies, conservation organizations, governments and their customers to rewire the way products get produced, delivered, consumed, reused and recycled to radically lower emissions. Next week, I hope to connect with many suppliers, conservation leaders, and other collaborators and get ideas about how to go faster, farther, together. In particular: how do we further scale generation and adoption of renewable energy? How can we work together to enable nature to be a bigger part of the solution? How can we collaborate to facilitate circular, even regenerative, production and consumption of consumer goods?

Value creation. We Mean Business – meaning we believe climate action is good for business. Just a couple of weeks ago, over 180 CEOs who are part of the US-based Business Roundtable issued a statement recognizing that their companies each achieve their own missions through a commitment to all stakeholders, and specifically expressed a desire to “protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices.” They did this not simply as an expression of corporate responsibility, but as an acknowledgement that shareholder value creation depends on addressing the social and environmental issues of most concern to customers, employees, and communities at large. As well, the investment community has increasingly asked companies to address the relevance of climate change for business strategies and operations. In our experience, action on emissions can protect or enhance business benefit by building customer trust, lowering cost, mitigating risk, helping maintain surety of supply, and creating new revenue streams. Questions on my mind going into next week: how can I make the case for climate action as value-creating action for business, as well as society? How can we at Walmart make it easier for other businesses to engage and expand their programs to address emissions?

Next week, I hope to come away with some ideas that will help my team go farther, faster in collaboration with others to reduce emissions. Whether you are going to New York next week or not, and whether you work in business, government, civil society, or are simply a person who lives on our planet, I hope you can tune in to the dialogue and come away with some new ideas too, and a sense of renewed optimism and commitment to tackle this issue of our time.