[Editor's Note: For more on Walmart's climate announcement, see coverage at GreenBiz.com and a post from Elizabeth Sturcken of Environmental Defense Fund.]
Until now, Walmart's bold sustainability efforts were marred by a glaring omission.
The $405-billion a year retailer has worked hard since 2005 to save energy, reduce waste and sell more sustainable products.
But it resisted pressures to reduce or hold steady its own greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, its carbon emissions have grown, as the middle graphic below shows. (There's a cleaner version in WMT's responsibility report, here.) When it comes to global warming, Walmart would appear to be doing more harm now than it was three or five years ago.
Today, Walmart made its first major commitment to reduce greenhouse gases -- although, in typical WMT fashion, rather than set a tough goal that might affect its own growth curve, the company plans to turn up the pressure on its thousands of suppliers to reduce their emissions.
Here's how a press release from Walmart and its lead environmental partner, Environmental Defense Fund, explained it:
Walmart today announced a goal to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its global supply chain by the end of 2015. This represents one and a half times the company's estimated global carbon footprint growth over the next five years and is the equivalent of taking more than 3.8 million cars off the road for a year.
The footprint of Walmart's global supply chain is many times larger than its operational footprint and represents a more impactful opportunity to reduce emissions.
You can think of this as the biggest carbon offset in global history, and I'm being only partly facetious when I say that.
Walmart wants to grow -- the company is expanding in the U.S., and elsewhere in the world -- and it will likely grow its own carbon footprint, directly and indirectly, as it sells more stuff and builds new stores, most in suburbs and rural areas, surrounding by acres of parking. But the companies that supply WMT -- that is, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Clorox, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, General Mills, Sony, Apple, HP, Dell and hundreds more, all of whom must be wondering about their carbon emissions right now -- will be asked to make things more efficiently, use less energy, buy more recycled content and the like.