Skip to main content

Talent Show

How Walmart associates put the 'U' and 'I' into sustainability

<p>Walmart&#39;s employee engagement program is helping its associates make sustainability-conscious choices in their lives.&nbsp;Now, the retailer is giving the program away to other companies.</p>

Walmart has taken seriously the task of making the global supply chain more sustainable, but also helping its own associates make sustainability-conscious choices in their lives. The tale of Walmart’s personal sustainability initiative for employees began in 2007, when an associate pilot program boasted impressive results. Within the first few years, the company saw 20,000 U.S. associates kick their smoking habits; recycle three million pounds of plastic; and, as a group, shed a collective 184,000 pounds from their bodies.

Walmart (full disclosure: a client of my firm, Weinreb Group) quickly figured out it was onto something big. With 1.4 million U.S. employees and 2.2 million globally, Walmart associates’ collective action has the potential to be a real game changer in positive behavioral change for themselves, their families, as well as the 200 million customers they serve each week. 

Building MSP

First referred to as their Personal Sustainability Projects, Walmart’s employee sustainability program has since transformed into My Sustainability Plan (MSP) with the guidance of consultancy BBMG. When brought on in 2010, BBMG’s objective was to build a comprehensive guide that would provide easy, incremental and realistic steps for companies to better engage their workforce in order to advance sustainability initiatives.

Under a tight three-month deadline, BBMG was tasked with shaping a global brand identity for MSP by conducting in-depth brand immersion training, planning sessions, retail store and distribution center site visits, internal stakeholder interviews, workshops and observational research. 

Happy Employees = Happy Employer

MSP is a win-win for both the Walmart associate and the company at large. Employees who feel valued, engaged and cared about are said to be more productive and loyal to their employer. 

As a recruiter, I am well aware of the value of an employee. Retaining valuable employees is a worthwhile investment. The estimated cost of turnover includes training, interviewing and lost productivity, just to cite some examples. According to whether you want a conservative or a generous estimate, the cost of turnover can range from 30 percent to 400 percent of a full year’s salary. Walmart saves in their pocketbook and on the clock with MSP. BBMG founding partner Mitch Baranowski articulates this employer advantage: "With younger employees increasingly committed to sustainability as a way of life, organizations that invest in such engagement programs will enjoy better recruitment, higher retention and higher morale." 

MSP launched in 2010, urging Walmart associates in 28 countries to adopt goals concentrated on living healthier, caring for the planet or getting the most out of life. Associates were asked to be part of the process to define the MSP focus areas of My Health (eating healthy, getting active, quitting tobacco, reducing stress), My Planet (saving water, reducing waste, saving energy, enjoying nature) and My Life (learning new skills, managing their money, making quality time, helping others).

MSP offers associates an online space with tools to not only create, track and stay dedicated to their goals, but also to connect with other associates via social networking such. Over 50,000 U.S. associates have signed up and used the tool, allowing Walmart to measure their associates’ level of engagement and the impact of their collective actions. Using this goal-oriented framework, BBMG created a user-friendly icon-driven visual identity system with what they call a “flexible set of creative applications.” 

If I were using the MSP toolkit, I’d want to get schooled on how to make more quality time in my life and decrease my carbon footprint. I was led to some useful tips under the MSP Making Quality Time category. For example, the tool gave simple, doable actions items like expressing appreciation on a daily basis to your loved ones, practicing a daily morning and evening ritual (like breakfast with the family or an evening walk with friends), taking thirty minutes to reflect on the day with your partner and setting aside alone time to recharge. 

One associate asserts, “With our new garden we’re spending more time together. Cooking more. Eating fresher food. And saving more on groceries. It’s just so smart. We’re even teaching our friends to compost.” I also got some ideas from MSP on how to save energy such as purchasing a programmable thermostat that helps you keep temperatures low while you are away, have ducts tested for air leakage, caulk windows and doors, clean or replace dirty air filters and check your tire pressure monthly.

Sharing is Caring

Walmart Japan illustrated the collective value of MSP when developing its MSP Together project in 2010. Associates were challenged to keep track of their footsteps together using pedometers to measure results over the course of one week. This cooperative endeavor added up to over 637 million combined footsteps (or 10 trips around the globe) by 30 percent of Walmart Japan associates.

According to Brooke Buchanan, Communications Director at Walmart, “What makes MSP so successful is that anyone can get involved. It’s not simply about working at Walmart, but making a personal commitment to be healthier, greener, or more active in the community. We are living better and making the world a better place — one associate at a time.” Consider this a sect of the pay-it-forward movement, as the idea is for associates to not just improve their own lives, but spread the sustainability to their friends, families, customers, colleagues and communities.

MSP is available to your company too

Out of the 2010 Clinton Initiative annual meeting came a pledge from Walmart to offer royalty free licenses to any organization interested in customizing MSP for their employees or stakeholders. This gives corporations, municipalities, schools systems and nonprofits the right to use the MSP program framework, curriculum, branding, artwork files and research. Since September 2011, more than 35 organizations have utilized this license, including Unilever, UPS, J.B. Hunt and United Healthcare.

How is your company helping employees to incorporate sustainability into their everyday lives?

More on this topic