Walmart and Annie's keep score of supplier sustainability

Retail buyers play a key role in helping big companies like Walmart make their supply chains more sustainable. Bringing them onboard, however, wasn't easy, so the world's largest retailer gave buyers scorecards to assess supplier sustainability. Now 5 percent of buyers' performance objectives must come from sustainable suppliers.

"A couple of tangible tools and metrics have entirely shifted the momentum," said Brittni Furrow, Walmart's director of sustainability for food and consumables.

Furrow and other experts delved into how companies are using scorecards to boost supply chain sustainability during two panel discussions last week at the GreenBiz Forum in San Francisco. Much of the discussion focused on how Wal-Mart is using assessment criteria from the Sustainability Consortium, the nonprofit it helped to create in 2009 to measure product sustainability.

With involvement from academics as well as suppliers and farmers, the consortium weaves together a slew of lifecycle data to better understand what criteria each industry needs to track in order to assess and improve product sustainability.

The consortium's science gives Walmart a better understanding of what questions to ask its diverse range of more than 100,000 suppliers in its scorecard.

"It helps us align on how to define sustainability in beer or cereal or children's toys," Furrow said.

But sometime scorecards aren't enough to take into account the complexity of Walmart's supply chains. Many of Walmart's direct suppliers can answer questions about their operations, but understanding upstream suppliers can be the biggest challenge.

"Supply chains are fragmented," explained Karie Crisp, an independent sustainability consultant for Walmart. "Sometimes you don't know all the information with the lack of transparency and education."

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