Walmart Learns Green Supply Chain Lessons From Patagonia

Patagonia, a company often heralded as a green business pioneer, is helping the world's largest retailer to introduce sustainability to its massive supply chain.

In a news story published Thursday, Forbes described how Patagonia began sharing its green supply chain know-how with Walmart over the last two years.

Over that time, Walmart has announced a series of bold moves, including rating its suppliers and products on their efforts to reduce environmental impacts and a greenhouse gas reduction commitment that relies heavily on its supplier base.

Patagonia has a vast amount of knowledge to share in the realm of sustainability. In recent years, the company launched the Footprint Chronicles to share product environmental impact information with its customers. It consistently experiments with ways to make products that "cause no unnecessary harm," ranging from hiking boots with a smaller carbon footprints to wetsuits made with rubber that uses limestone derivatives rather than petroleum-based materials. The company has set a goal of making all of its products recyclable by late 2010. According to the Forbes article, Patagonia has helped Walmart calculate the amount of embedded water in some products, whether pesticides were used, and with the format of its supplier sustainability questionnaire. Patagonia Founder and Chief Executive Yvon Chouinard also delivered a presentation to 1,200 Walmart buyers on vetting suppliers for sustainable business practices.

Patagonia previously helped Nike and the Gap in the 1990s to begin using organic cotton following Patagonia's shift from conventionally grown cotton. More recently, Patagonia met with Ikea and Marks and Spencer about sustainability. Additionally, the company began collaborating with REI and North Face this year to use Swiss firm Bluesign Technologies to grade dyeing and finishing by textile suppliers.

"This is where altruism meets selfishness," Jill Dumain, Patagonia's environmental-strategy director, told Forbes. "We're not big enough to make this the industry standard on our own. We need them to do it, too."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user nicolas.boullosa.