National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

A few random notes from the talk by Dorn Wenninger, vice president and floral for Walmart, Bentonville, Ark., at the USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington on Feb. 22.

While a major focus of his talk (and my coverage) was the local food movement that is being spurred on by Walmart, Wenninger also talked about its sustainability aspirations.

Walmart established several ambitious sustainability goals about five years ago, Wenninger said. Walmart aims to be supplied by 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain people and the environment.

 Relating to the third goal of sustainability, Wenninger said Walmart carries a responsibility. “You cannot be the largest retailer of food in the world and not have the responsibility of doing things better,” he said.

Since there is no standard definition of sustainability, Wenninger said Walmart worked with various stakeholders to create  The Sustainability Consortium. “Walmart does not own or control the TSC,” he said, noting that Walmart has invited other retailers to participate. “We encourage our growers to participate in the TSC,” he said. While Walmart has accomplished much with in-store efforts to reduce waste – he cited the fact that the chain has eliminated more than 80% of its landfill waste in the last several years – he said that 90% of its “footprint” is in the supply chain.

Thus, Walmart is asking its suppliers to look at their practices.

The TSC does not claim expertise in specific sectors like fruit and vegetable production, but works the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops on developing key sustainability measures for fresh produce. Wenninger said Walmart wants the TSC to be useful to all of the supply chain, not just to Walmart.

Wenninger said that sustainability goals seek to reduce cost, increase product quality and find supply chain efficiencies.

To Walmart's produce suppliers, I ask: is it working?