Blog: Dean BestStay on the right side of the sustainability debate

Dean Best | 11 February 2010

More evidence that food manufacturers need to stay on the right side of the sustainability debate - Wal-Mart is taking its plans to measure how environmentally-friendly its suppliers are outside the US for the first time.

The retail behemoth has launched its "sustainability index" into Canada after launching the scheme in the US last summer.

In summary, the index plans to measure suppliers on things like energy and raw material use, set up a supplier database and then create a ratings system that consumers can understand and use to shop in an environmentally-friendly way.

Questionnaires will be winging their way to Wal-Mart's Canadian suppliers this summer to find out more about how 'sustainable' they are. The timetable for the database and rating system have yet to be decided, the retailer said. Crucially, this gives suppliers time to work harder at making their supply chains more green.

Wal-Mart also plans to set up a "consortium" to develop the database that houses the answers to the questionnaires and the data on the "lifecycle" of products. The retailer has pledged to give suppliers - alongside NGOs and other retailers - a voice in this consortium.

Suppliers beware. The noises out of Bentonville suggest Wal-Mart is deadly serious about these efforts. And the fact that Wal-Mart has got the ball rolling on the initiative in the middle of a recession is another indication of its commitment to the issue.

"Higher customer expectations are a permanent part of the future," Wal-Mart boss Mike Duke said last year. Consumer demand for products made responsibly was real and would not fade, he insisted.

An obvious next question for Wal-Mart's international suppliers is: where next?

Could similar moves be afoot in Wal-Mart's other markets?

For the UK at least, the answer could be: very soon.

Last autumn, Asda said it was planning to launch a "packaging scorecard" in the first quarter of this year.

Such a move may not be the full Wal-Mart index but suppliers here will be watching Asda's next moves on sustainability with interest.


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