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How Walmart, Levi’s Reduce GHGs, Waste through Partnerships

WalmartWalmart met — and beat — a major greenhouse gas emissions goal this week.

In 2010, Walmart announced its goal to eliminate 20 million metric tons of GHG emissions from its global supply chain by the end of 2015. At its Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting on Tuesday, the company announced that it has exceeded this commitment early by eliminating 28.2 million metric tons to date.

But even the world’s largest retailer can’t do it alone. A 10-year partnership between Walmart and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) proved vital to helping the company achieve this sustainability goal.

Collaborating with EDF, Walmart achieved this goal by implementing various measures across both its global operations and those of suppliers, including improving energy efficiency, initiating numerous renewable energy projects, creating the Closed Loop Recycling fund, changing food date labeling to reduce waste, and collaborating with suppliers on the Sustainability Index, a tool created with help from EDF to track progress towards reducing overall carbon footprint.

Improvement Requires Collaboration

“While we leverage our size and scale to influence positive change in a variety of ways, driving long-term improvement across an industry as vast as the manufacturing industry requires collaboration,” Walmart’s Kevin Gardner, senior director, global responsibility communications, tells Environmental Leader. “Through our ongoing collaboration, we’re helping to strengthen the global supply chain at a much faster rate than would be possible on our own.”

In a blog post about EDF’s partnership with Walmart, Elizabeth Sturcken, a managing director of EDF’s corporate partnerships team, writes about how EDF and Walmart overcame barriers and challenges to drive progress on GHG emissions.

“Yes, EDF pushed Walmart to set this goal; but we also worked side by side with them to achieve it,” Sturcken writes. “It is this type of long-term collaboration that drives results at scale.”

From major multinationals to sustainability advocacy organizations, key industry voices agree that partnerships play a major role in helping businesses resolve environmental problems and achieve sustainability goals. The World Resources Institute labeled partnerships one of its stories to watch in 2015. McKinsey & Company published research on how to make sustainability partnerships successful.

Building Successful Partnerships

One of these seven principles to successful sustainability partnerships is to set simple, credible goals. McKinsey & Company’s research found collaborations fail when the partners involved have different agendas. The solution: set an aspirational goal on which everyone can agree — preferably one that could fit neatly on a bumper sticker.

Walmart offers similar advice to companies looking to develop successful sustainability partnerships. “By narrowing in on their overarching sustainability priorities, and setting smaller, milestone goals along the path to achieving them, other companies can identify common ground and shared goals with outside businesses — and therefore create strong, focused partnerships,” Gardner says. “For example, the collaboration between Walmart and EDF has helped define a new model of corporate sustainability, consisting of collaboration between many partners, and focusing on whole systems change. Over the last decade, these collaborations have yielded significant progress in the areas of energy, waste and Walmart’s supply chain.”

Growing Business While Slowing Environmental Impact

The collaborations have also been good for Walmart’s business, Gardner says. While he won’t give specifics on financial savings, he says the company’s goal to reduce GHG emissions have led to lower, more predictable operating costs as Walmart has invested in renewable energy.

“We’ve also proved that we can grow our business while slowing our environmental impact,” Gardner says. “In fact, we forecast for the first time that the greenhouse gas emissions from our buildings’ energy use will decrease by 2020 if we stay the course and achieve our 2020 renewable energy and efficiency goals, which, when fully implemented, we expect will generate more than $1 billion in savings annually.”

How Levi’s Closes the Loop

Also this week Levi Strauss & Co. announced a partnership with Goodwill that provides consumers an opportunity to donate used clothing and shoes by using a free shipping label available on the US ecommerce sites for the Levi’s and Dockers brands that is free to consumers.

During the holiday season, Levi’s will support Goodwill’s mission of creating jobs by contributing $5 to Goodwill, up to $50,000 for every box of donated clothing shipped. This partnership also reduces waste by keeping clothing out of landfills and supports Levi’s goal to be closed loop by 2020, says Michael Kobori, Levi’s vice president of sustainability.

“It’s about finding ways to have the most significant impact — both environmentally and socially,” Kobori says. “Designing programs like the one we’re launching with Goodwill achieves both.”

As companies look for ways to reduce waste and emissions, and solve other environmental challenges, it makes sense to work together, with other companies, public agencies and nonprofits. As Sturcken writes in her blog, quoting EDF president Fred Krupp: “When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world.”

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