Much has been written about Walmart’s main sustainability program, Project Gigaton — the ambition to reduce or avoid 1 billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from its supply chain by 2030. Now, five years in, the retail giant is claiming in its recent fiscal year 2022 ESG report to be halfway to its goal, having avoided 574 million metric tons by engaging with over 4,500 suppliers.
In 2020 and 2021, Walmart avoided or reduced 230 million metric tons and 416 million metric tons of carbon emissions since 2017 before reaching the 574 million cumulative this year. And the 4,500 suppliers represent 70 percent of Walmart’s U.S. product sales.
"It's a big number, and we know we need to do more," said Jane Ewing, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart. "But it gives us confidence that we’re on track to delivering on that commitment."
A gigaton of greenhouse gases accounts for about 30 percent of Walmart’s Scope 3 footprint, in line with the Paris agreement's plans for 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
Reaching the halfway point of a 13-year commitment, with eight years still to come, is quite the achievement. But it does beg the question: Has Walmart grabbed all the low-hanging fruit, reduced or avoided the easiest emissions and recruited the most engaged suppliers, making the next 50 percent a much harder task?
We want to make sure we democratize access for everybody; we want every supplier to come along the journey.
According to Zach Freeze, senior director of sustainable initiatives at Walmart, Project Gigaton has already brought most of its largest suppliers on board. The company knows that the next 50 percent of the goal won’t come from signing up thousands of new suppliers.
"We are still incrementally adding suppliers here and there," he said. "Likely not going to be as large companies, but that still doesn't mean that it’s not worth pursuing. We want to make sure we democratize access for everybody; we want every supplier to come along the journey.
"We do know that there are suppliers that are not engaged. And with our buying partners [we can] have the right conversations with them and encourage them to join."
But most of the focus for Walmart is on driving initiatives and programs to further reductions inside companies that have already come on board.
Part of that shift, according to Ewing, is the newly added pillars — nature, transportation and people — to Walmart's sustainability and ESG core principles. The company is trying to emphasize new tools to educate suppliers and continue to make progress along the sustainability journey. Freeze believes the most reduction opportunities are in food transportation, packaging, waste and refrigeration to avoid and reduce that last 426 million tons.