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Walmart Developing Worldwide Sustainable Product Index
By: Seth Berman

Who would think that Walmart would take the first step towards developing a worldwide sustainable product rating?  For a long time Walmart was considered by many environmentalists as the leading polluter and local job loss creator.

Last week, Walmart released a press statement that “reaffirmed its commitment to the environment, by incorporating sustainable business practices throughout the entire consumer business supply chain.”

Inhabitat has written a great overview of the system, and their opinion is “Yes. Walmart’s sustainability index may be a game changer, and it could easily have as much impact as a cap and trade program. With over (7200 worldwide retail stores), the mega-corporation has the power and reach with manufacturers worldwide to get them on board with this program.”

The goal with the Sustainable Product Index is to clarify the abundance of Green Labels that are already in the marketplace, and help consumers choose products that are more efficient, last longer, and perform better.  The system will index and quantify the sustainable attributes of a product by examining them from raw materials to disposal.  The main term is called Life Cycle Assessments, which will take into account not only the product, but also what the supplying companies are doing to monitor and reduce and improve their environmental and social impact on the world.

The Sustainable Product Index is being developed by Walmart, Arizona State University, and the University of Arkansas as an “open source” sustainability consortium that will also work with other businesses, NGOs, and governmental agencies.  Walmart emphasizes that they will not “own” the index and considers the strength in success to be its design as a globally shared and open platform tool for all.

Walmart says, “The final step of the index is to provide customers with product information in a simple, convenient, easy to understand manner so they can make choices and consume in a more sustainable way.  This will provide customers with greater transparency in to the quality and history of products than they have today.  How that information is delivered to consumers is still undermined.”

“Developing indices to reliably compare products on their environmental performance, in addition to an open source database to support this, is a key step in the transition to a green economy. The EPA is very interested in this project and will follow it closely,” said Clare Lindsay of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.”

Currently, they are asking more than 100,000 suppliers to briefly evaluate their  own companies’ sustainability, focusing on top-tier suppliers in the U.S. to complete the survey by Oct. 1st, 2009.   The 15 questions are grouped in 4 categories: energy and climate, material efficiency, natural resources, and people and community.  You can see them here.

You can also see the whole Walmart Sustainability Index: Version 1.0 here it is a 6 page document that also includes FAQ's, terms, and definitions.

Walmart also has a video of Mike Duke, president and CEO, Walmart Stores, Inc. explaining the sustainability index and why transparency is needed in the supply chain.

Importance of Sustainability - Walmart EVP Corp. Affairs - Leslie Dach

Sustainability Index - Walmart CEO - Mike Duke

Sustainability Index - Walmart EVP and CMO - John Fleming

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