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Walmart's Green Buildings and Zero Waste Programs Raise the Industry Bar

May 12, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part report on Walmart’s sustainability goals, accomplishments and initiative as presented by Fred Bedore, senior director of business strategy and sustainability, during Walmart’s recent Sustainable Packaging Expo. Part One, “Walmart’s Next Generation of Sustainability Initiatives,” focused on its global leadership goals and supplier partnerships. Part Three next week will cover Walmart’s packaging initiatives and an update on its sustainability scorecard.

By Maureen Azzato

Over the past several years, Walmart has built new stores and distribution center prototypes in the 15 different regions of the world in which it does business, and every one is at least 20 percent more efficient than baseline buildings, according to Fred Bedore, senior director of business strategy and sustainability for Walmart.

Walmart wind turbine

Wind turnbine at Walmart's fresh distribution center in Balzac, Canada.

 A prototype in Brazil, in fact, is now a model that the world’s largest retailer is expanding upon. All told, that location is 25 percent more energy efficient, produced 66 percent less greenhouse gasses and uses 40 percent less water, Bedore said during a presentation at Walmart’s recent Sustainable Packaging Expo.

“We also built a new fresh distribution center up in Canada…and the exciting thing there is we have all kinds of new technology -- as well as some real basic things -- that we’re incorporated into the building that made it tremendously more efficient,” Bedore said, noting that Walmart expects to save “millions of dollars over the next five years in operating costs over a traditional building just because of the technology we put in.”

Walmart Hybrid trucks
A hybrid Walmart truck.

Walmart is exploring everything from sophisticated solar and wind energy and other complex solutions to simple common-sense changes such as making dock doors six-inches narrower, which permits less air to escape. They also eliminated windows in the dock doors and added insulation in the floor levers, Bedore said.

On the fleet front, simple changes and adjustments have made a large impact as well. “The goal is to double the efficiency of the fleet. We’re actually 65 percent more efficient today than we were versus the baseline. It’s a huge progress when you talk about the number of items that we move and the number of trucks that are out on the road.”

Meanwhile, the California market is serving as the company’s beta region for its zero waste program, one of Walmart’s most ambitious sustainability goals. The most recent figures available indicated “that all of our operations -- Sam’s Clubs, Walmart stores and distribution centers -- are diverting 81 percent of all of their solid waste [from landfills],” Bedore said, noting, however, “that the last 19 percent is going to be obviously very difficult.” (For more on the California zero waste initiative see “Walmart Diverts 80 percent of Waste from California Operations from Landfills.”

fred bedore
Fred Bedore

Bedore noted that even though zero waste is actually defined as 95 percent landfill diversion, “Walmart is truly aligned towards achieving true zero waste,” Bedore said. “The idea is that if we’re shooting for zero. We might end up at 97, we might end up at 95, but our goal is to get to zero.”

Return-on-investment analysis is critical to this program and taking a hard look at true cost versus benefits and very rigorously quantifying waste diversion and redirection. Walmart has a chart with upwards of 20 different waste streams identified and “calls out differently things that are truly diverted or redirected,” Bedore said. For example, waste that is incinerated and energy reclaimed is more beneficial since “you reclaim some of the energy versus just incinerate it and all you end up with is ash.”

John FaillaGRD Views: These Walmart sustainability initiatives provide further insight into how Walmart is creating a global learning lab for green retail decisions. In the process, they're engaging employees globally to support and advance sustainable business practices that reduce costs. -- John Failla for Green Retail Decisions