Part of Wal-Mart's sustainability efforts involve increasing locally sourced produce to reduce transportation miles, reduce pollution and save fuel.
Part of Wal-Mart's sustainability efforts involve increasing locally sourced produce to reduce transportation miles, reduce pollution and save fuel.

Although the fresh produce industry wasn’t specifically discussed during Wal-Mart’s global sustainability milestone meeting, the practices and products of industries closely tied to produce were front and center in reports about the retailer’s progress with the Sustainability Index.

Advances with plastic packaging, reduction of fertilizer use and increased energy efficiency at all points along the supply chain were among the projects that Wal-Mart buyers and the suppliers they work with described during an international conference call and webcast Sept. 12.

A Coca-Cola representative explained how traditional shrink sleeve labels were a roadblock to recycling because they contained materials that contaminated the plastic recycling stream. Fresh produce packers and shippers face similar challenges with much of their packaging.

Coke worked with its suppliers to develop a different sleeve material, which means Wal-Mart shelves will again have round, single serve bottles of Coke products this coming holiday season. The Christmas ornament shaped bottles were not available last year because the shrink sleeves were not in line with the Sustainability Index.

“My favorite quote from today is ‘If it’s not right, we’re gonna make it right.’ That’s what Wal-Mart’s doing and that’s what we want our suppliers to do,” said chief executive officer Mike Duke, thanking a sixth-generation Nebraska cattleman for helping bring Wal-Mart’s beef supply closer to compliance with the Sustainability Index.

Duke reported that more than 1,000 suppliers representing 200 store categories have joined the Sustainability Index project since Wal-Mart rolled it out broadly in August 2012. He said he expects 5,000 suppliers representing 300 categories on board by the end of 2013.

Wal-Mart suppliers report progress with sustainabilityThe Sustainability Index is a measurement system used to track the environmental impact of products. So far, Wal-Mart’s general merchandise department has improved its index product sustainability score by an average of 20%. The grocery department score is 12% better than when it was first measured against the index.

“With the Sustainability Index, Wal-Mart is applying the science and research that we’ve developed to create a more sustainable supply chain globally,” said Kara Hurst, chief executive officer of The Sustainability Consortium.

The consortium’s mission is to design and implement credible, transparent and scalable science-based measurement and reporting systems accessible for all producers, retailers, and users of consumer products, according to its website. The Wal-Mart Foundation was instrumental in founding the consortium.

Wal-Mart officials have said they want 70% of the goods it sells in U.S. stores to be from suppliers that use the consortium’s Sustainability Index.