(UPDATED COVERAGE, 1:50 p.m.) As it released favorable financial news, Wal-Mart Store Inc. officials discussed sustainability initiatives and what different divisions of the global retailer are doing to save energy and costs.

During a Nov. 12 meeting, broadcast online, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer also announced it had higher than expected third-quarter earnings per share.

Wal-Mart reported diluted per-share earnings from continuing operations during the quarter exceeded the company’s projections of 78 cents to 82 cents, up from the 77 cents per share the chain earned from continuing operations the same time last year.

Net sales increased 1.1% from $97.6 billion late last year to $98.6 billion late this year.

Wal-Mart also cautioned it expects comparable store sales in the current quarter to be flat, plus or minus a percent.
In other media reports, Wal-Mart officials said U.S. customer visits increased 1.5% during the quarter for comparable stores while average purchases declined.

A Wal-Mart official told the Wall Street Journal that deflation caused the drop in average purchases, with grocery prices in many food categories dropping well beyond what the company expected.

“Our company kept growing, while our competitors tried to dig themselves out of the hole,” Charles Holley, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president of finance, said during the conference. “Customer traffic and market share gains continue across every segment we have. We continue to have a lot of momentum as we go into the holiday season.”

Elizabeth Fretheim, Wal-Mart’s director of strategy and sustainability for logistics, said Wal-Mart drove 90 million fewer miles last year, mainly by packing more on trucks, running different routes and upgrading technology on trucks.

Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart’s sustainability senior vice president, said the company is making strong progress on its supplier assessment tool.

He said the company has three broad sustainability goals: to be supplied by 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain people and the environment.

Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s president and chief executive officer, said associates play a role in the company’s sustainability push.

“Companies can really do well financially by focusing on doing good,” he said. “We want to broaden our focus and accelerate. There have been great steps taken this year on top of the progress made in previous years.”

Andy Wolf, a senior analyst at BB&T Capital Markets, Richmond, Va., said the sustainability push has helped the retailer counter some past negative publicity.

“They just created a whole different aura for what Wal-Mart represents,” he said. “Their company is better for people through lower pricing and better for the world for having a social consciousness. I first heard two years ago how they were starting to reach out to vendors and asking them to be more conservation-minded on their packaging and those types of things. It’s not a bunch of rhetoric. They are acting in a way consistent with what they are talking about.”

UPDATED: Wal-Mart touts sustainability, releases 3rd-quarter results