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New Wal-Mart CEO Says Sustainability Drive Will Continue at Full Speed

New Wal-Mart President and CEO Mike Duke, who succeeds Lee Scott as head of the world's largest retailer, says he expects the company to accelerate and broaden efforts to achieve its sweeping environmental goals.

Speaking at Wal-Mart's "2009 Sustainability Milestone Meeting," the last major transitional event for Duke and Scott, the incoming CEO took the opportunity to address the company and say, "how very, very committed I am to this topic of sustainability. I am very serious about it. This is not optional."

The company's efforts for greater environmental responsibility began in 2005, when Scott called for the Wal-Mart to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, create zero waste and sell products that help sustain the environment. Since then, the company has worked to improve its track record of environmental and social responsibility in its business operations and is demanding that its suppliers do the same.

"My message to you today I hope will be really clear," Duke told the company at the meeting last week. "We want to accelerate our efforts in sustainability. We want to broaden our efforts."

Duke said he expects growth in sustainability efforts geographically and functionally throughout Wal-Mart's global operations and that the company's 2.2 million associates worldwide "recognize their personal, individual responsibility in the area of sustainability."

Duke also said that employees' upward mobility and success in the company will depend on their success in demonstrating commitment to the company's goals.

"No matter what your job is — even from our hourly associates to our frontline supervisors to our senior leadership — sustainability is an opportunity to demonstrate leadership," Duke said. "You will see that the leaders that get ahead in Wal-Mart will be the ones who demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. You won't be able, in the future, to be viewed in the same way if you put this on the back burner."

Duke joined Wal-Mart in 1995 and had been vice chairman and leader of Wal-Mart International since 2005 before being named president and CEO. He played a key role in shaping the heightened expectations that the company set for suppliers worldwide and announced in October.

In a guest column today, Environmental Defense Fund, which is working with Wal-Mart in its efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, takes a look at the opportunities and challenges Duke faces in pursing his company's environmental goals.

Despite the company's progress in some areas, it continues to be a target of criticism for groups that say the retail giant should be doing more to advance its goals, including better treatment of workers.

A video of Duke remarks at Wal-Mart's sustainability meeting on January 26 is available for download here.

At the meeting, the company announced Wal-Mart Americas will require that the laundry and dish detergents it sells are made with 70 percent fewer phosphates by 2011.

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