[Editor's Note: Environmental Defense Fund's Elizabeth Sturcken provides this post on Walmart's announcement to slash 20 million metric tons of CO2 from its products' lifecycle and supply chain by 2015. EDF worked closely with Walmart to develop the goal. For more coverage, see GreenBiz.com Senior Contributor Marc Gunther's post and GreenBiz.com]

Archimedes said "Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth," when explaining the principle of levers.

Leverage is the big news about Walmart's announcement today. The company has committed to reducing 20 million metric tons of carbon pollution from its products' lifecycle and supply chain over the next five years. That's equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 3.8 million cars.

So is Walmart moving the earth? No, not yet. But this is precisely the kind of innovative approach to reducing carbon pollution that we need right now. Environmental Defense Fund worked closely with Walmart to craft this goal and project that makes the most of what Walmart can uniquely do to cut carbon pollution across the globe.

This commitment is bold because:

  • Walmart's supply chain is where the action is. It's the biggest possible lever that Walmart could bring to the table. Walmart will work with suppliers to reduce their emissions - which they otherwise might not do -- resulting in positive ripple effects around the globe.
  • It prioritizes the biggest opportunities. Walmart is looking at the products that create the most carbon emissions across their lifecycles -- as well as products that are top sellers - and focusing on those first.
  • It gets carbon pollution reductions now. There's no waiting for the United States or the world to act.
  • It will likely reach ten of thousands of companies around the globe -- companies that would not be required to reduce emissions by national or international regulatory proposals but will greatly benefit from energy efficiency efforts.
  • It adds to a drumbeat of clear messaging to suppliers from Walmart that they need to reduce carbon pollution. This commitment follows the Sustainability Index, Product Innovation work with Private Brands and other initiatives.
  • It's good for business and good for customers. This project is about Walmart and its suppliers working hand-in-hand to find ways to drive carbon and energy - and cost - out of the supply chain. Walmart customers care about America's energy future. They see tangible value from carbon reductions every time a lower carbon product costs less or uses dramatically less energy once they get it home.

Two Kinds of Change: Simple But Big and Transformational

In this project we will look at two different kinds of opportunities. The first opportunities are simple and relatively small changes that, when coupled with Walmart's scale, become big reductions. The other opportunities are more transformational, where we dive deep and engage an industry or consumers to fundamentally change products or their uses.

DVD packaging is an example of a simple change that adds up because of Walmart's scale.