Walmart Sows Major Sustainable Ag Commitment

The overarching theme of Walmart's ongoing sustainability initiatives is that when the company sets goals, it doesn't aim for half-measures. In a spate of new goals announced this morning at a Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting in Bentonville, Walmart aims to overhaul the global food supply chain.

Walmart today announced a series of five-year goals addressing everything from farm to table, focusing especially on farming and the food supply chain.

"When we think about our sustainability goals up to this point, it's not an area we have addressed adequately," CEO Mike Duke explained this morning, "but only four of our 39 sustainability goals address food. But that's changing, today."

The goals Walmart announced today fall under three headers: Supporting farmers and their communities, producing more food with less waste, and sustainably source key agriculture.

Under the first category, Walmart commits to:

• sell $1 billion in food sourced from 1 million small and medium farmers;
• providing training to 1 million farmers and farm workers on areas including crop selection and sustainable farm practices;
• increase the income of the small and medium farmers it sources from by 10 to 15 percent;
• In the U.S., doubling its purchase of locally sourced produce, to reach 9 percent by 2015.

Because an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the food grown around the world never reaches a table, the second set of Walmart's sustainable agricultural goals addressing cutting the amount of food waste in the supply chain.

Those goals include reducing food waste by 15 percent in Walmart's stores in emerging markets and by 10 percent in the United States and other developed economics, investing $1 billion in its global fresh-food supply chain, and launching a Sustainable Produce Assessment for its top producers.

That last initiative accelerates how Walmart's Sustainability Index affects its food supply chain, and aims to bring the same level of transparency and reporting that its manufacturing suppliers have to food producers as well.

"We will do this through our Sustainability Index by asking our top growers for the first time to provide detailed information on their agricultural practices," Mike Duke explained. "This will lead to more efficient use of water, pesticides and fertilizer, and ultimately, more sustainable practices."

Leslie Dach, Walmart's Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, spelled out what that will mean for large agricultural suppliers: "We’ll be asking growers to share information about their water, fertilizer and chemical use," he said. "And as we’ve seen from our other work, this kind of transparency encourages efficiency, innovation and the optimization of resources."

The final set of commitments announced by Walmart today focus on minimizing the impacts of some of the most high-impact products on the market: Palm oil and beef. These two products are among the leading causes of deforestation around the world, and Walmart hopes to essentially eliminate the negative impacts of its purchases of those products.

By 2015, Walmart will require sustainably sourced palm oil for all Walmart-branded products around the globe, and will only source beef that does not contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil, where it's estimated that 60 percent of all deforestation is attributed to cattle ranching.

The palm oil move alone is expected to cut Walmart's greenhouse gas footprint by five million metric tons -- one-quarter of the company's target carbon footprint reduction.

Walmart has set country-specific goals for these targets, including:

In Argentina, Walmart will increase the amount of produce it sells from small and medium farmers by more than 60 percent and ensure 80 percent of its producer suppliers are certified in good agricultural practices. The company plans to reduce in-store food waste by 13 percent and reduce pesticide residue through training and certification.

In China, Walmart will expand the success of its Direct Farm Program by engaging as many as 2 million farm workers and reduce produce waste by 15 percent by the end of 2015. In addition, it will require sustainably sourced palm oil in its private brand products, and 15 percent of the company’s Direct Farm products will be upgraded from Green to Organic certified by the end of 2015.

In India, Walmart will partner with 1 million farmers and farm workers to source 50 percent of its fresh produce. Through the Direct Farm program, the company aims to increase farmer income by 20 percent and reduce food waste by 5 percent. The company will work with farmers to reduce the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

We'll have much more on Walmart's new agricultural sustainability goals as the story develops.

Image CC-licensed by Jody McNary Photography.