4 lessons Walmart taught one student about sustainability

As a summer MBA intern in the Walmart Sustainability Department, I had an amazing and rare opportunity. I was able to put into practice the sustainability rhetoric that’s repeated every day in my classes and green news sources but rarely really applied in practice.

I spent the summer working on Walmart’s renewable energy strategy, and yes, I picked up a lot of details about solar and wind technology, about power purchase agreements and about efficient energy use. But in the end, the most valuable lessons I learned were the ones I already knew. Like a greeting card saying that suddenly becomes more profound when you really do “dance like no one is watching,” the sayings I’d begun to skim over in my own sustainability reading became fresh and powerful again as I put them into action.

So here I am, repeating four sustainability lessons you may have heard before, with the hope that I can inspire you to make them your own through action.

First, making the business case for sustainability IS important. It’s been written about countless times -- on this website among many other places. This summer, I had the chance to actually make it by talking about the business reasons for renewable energy every single day. I learned that there isn’t “a” magical business case. Every conversation and interaction has to be built not only around the person you are speaking with, but also around what you know is foremost on their mind. “You know, it’s just like what you were saying at that meeting yesterday…”

[MBA Takeaway: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Forget explaining why sustainability is necessary, and explain why it is necessary for them. PowerPoint is the shorthand of corporate America -- so take that Management Presentations class.]

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