Canadian Packaging chats with Walmart Canada's chief merchandising officer to learn how the retailing giant remains on track to deliver on its packaging sustainability pledge
June 19, 2012
by George Guidoni, Editor; Cole Garside, Photographer
It is safe to say that no other annual event in the Canadian packaging community packs them in like the Walmart Sustainable Packaging Conference in Toronto.
Organized and managed by PAC-The Packaging Association, the annual forum offers compelling proof of Walmart Canada Corp.’s unwavering commitment to packaging sustainability and meaningful carbon footprint reduction—right across its vast global supply chain.
Always featuring top-ranking Walmart Canada executives and their leading CPG (consumer packaged goods) vendor partner counterparts, the highly-anticipated event routinely draws hundreds of senior representatives from the packaging and CPG industry, as well as environmental regulators and watchdog groups, to hear candid progress updates on the retailer’s much-lauded and closely-monitored implementation of its self-styled Packaging Scorecard vendor evaluation system—designed to enable the world’s largest retailer to achieve a five percent reduction in the amount of packaging sent to its stores by the end of 2013.
With that firm deadline now just a year-and-a-half-year away, next month’s Walmart Sustainable Packaging Conference VI—to be held June 19 at the Toronto Congress Centre—promises to be more even more relevant and educational for Canada’s packaging professionals than any of its earlier editions, with a top-level line-up of speakers offering priceless insights into how and why packaging sustainability must be a top corporate priority for all progressively-minded businesses serving Canada’s increasingly environmentally astute consumer public.
One of the senior Walmart Canada executives who will be addressing the Toronto conference audience for the first time is Lee Tappenden, who was appointed as the company’s chief merchandising officer last year.
While still a relative newcomer to Walmart Canada’s headquarter operations in Mississauga, Ont., having joined Walmart Canada as senior vice-president of merchandising operations in 2010, he is anything but a newcomer to the parent company Walmart Stores Inc.’s far-flung global business, with the University of Westminster business graduate embarking on his Walmart career with the retailer’s U.K. subsidiary ASDA in 1996.
After transferring to the U.S. operations to accept a position with the Walmart global sourcing team, Tappenden continued to rise through a series of progressively senior roles within the U.S. operations before moving on to Walmart Japan, where he served as chief merchandising officer before moving to Canada for his next professional challenge.
It is a challenge that naturally carries a considerable burden of responsibility for Tappenden, who is leading a highly-dedicated and environmentally-conscious team of buyers whose purchasing decisions ultimately drive the company’s general merchandise, food, health-and-wellness and apparel businesses.
The Canadian Packaging magazine recently caught up with Tappenden at his Mississauga office to get an update on how Walmart Canada’s packaging sustainability efforts, along with a little preview of what’s in store for the retailer’s Canadian vendors and their packaging suppliers as the company steps into high gear to meet is ambitious environmental pledges next year.
Please explain what environmental sustainability means to Walmart Canada, and what the company is doing to achieve it at its Canadian operations.
At Walmart, we know that being an efficient and profitable business and being a good steward of the environment are mutually complementary goals that can work well together. Our broad environmental goals are simple and straightforward:
• To be supplied by 100-percent renewable energy;
• To create zero waste at all our operations;
• To sell products that sustain both people and the environment.
We are deeply committed to being a corporate leader in sustainability. Our commitment to sustainability helps us make good on our promise to help Canadians save money and to live better, while also doing our part to help out the planet in the process.
We have enjoyed good cooperation and support from our Canadian CPG (consumer packaged goods) vendors and partners since the launch of the Packaging Scorecard in Canada in 2009.
There is much ‘behind-the-scenes’ work going on to improve the sustainability of the merchandise that we sell, so that we can provide better products to our Canadian customers and their families.
This in itself helps them to ‘do the right thing’ at the store level without feeling overwhelmed by the inherent complexity of sustainability.
To that end, we are currently working with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership in our seafood category to advance sustainable and responsible marine stewardship, and we have a global effort underway to switch to
sustainably-sourced palm oil in all our private-brand products.
Similarly, we are also working closely with the Better Cotton Initiative in our apparel and home categories.
With regards to packaging, we will continue to work with our suppliers and the industry as a whole, whereby Walmart Canada encourages our vendor partners to provide our customers with reliable and accurate information with regards to packaging, as well as maintaining our long-standing associations with leading industry groups such as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and PAC-The Packaging Association.
What are some of the more notable successes that the company has achieved with its Packaging Scorecard vendor evaluation metrics in Canada?
The liquid laundry compaction was a major initiative where we have significantly reduced the amount of packaging used for that specific product category.
In addition, since we relaunched our Great Value private-label program, we reduced our paperboard packaging by 10 per cent.
We have also made notable strides in the toys category by reducing the amount of packaging on our private-label Kids Connection program, and we are also working with our industry partners to remove coated and non-coated wire ties—replacing them with paper strings.
Since launching the Packaging Scorecard system, we have seen significant efforts and progress being made in the lightweighting of packaging materials across all of the CPG categories.
One notable example of this progress can be found with the water bottles, where the weight of the containers has gone from 16 grams for a 500-ml bottle to 10 grams or less.
To note just one interesting example, our private-label Great Value water bottle is today made right here in Ontario from 100-percent recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and that’s just one of a multitude of successful sustainable packaging stories that can be traced back to the Packaging Scorecard initiative launched by Walmart to encourage our vendors to reduce their packaging footprint.
This year we are also accelerating the process of removing PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic from all of our private-label non-bottle rigid plastic packaging such as clamshells and blister-packs.
Our goal is to transition these containers to PET, so that we can recycle this material in the same recycling stream as our PET bottles.
We are also asking our brand-name vendor partners to voluntarily commit to removing PVC from their rigid packaging as well, because PVC is a lookalike material that contaminates the recycling stream for materials, such as PET, which are more easily recycled and therefore have a much higher value.
What has been the consumer response and feedback to the environmentally-friendly product offerings carried at Walmart stores in Canada, such as For the Greener Good private-label products?
We currently stock hundreds of third party-certified, environmentally-friendly products. In addition, we are working with our suppliers to improve the sustainability of many conventional products—for both national brands and the private-label goods.
You can see this with Our Finest product range, which is our premium grocery brand which offers Canadian consumers exceptional taste, quality, selection and variety with a broad variety of appetizers, sparkling beverages, chips, chocolates, candies, ice-cream and other food products at unbeatable prices. (See Pictures)
As we do with all our private-label brands, our goal is to continuously improve the sustainability of Our Finest products.
As the 2013 deadline for the Packaging Scorecard’s targeted five-percent packaging reduction approaches, where does Walmart’s packaging sustainability agenda go from there?
We have two key aspirational goals that will continue to drive our packaging sustainability efforts well beyond 2013, which are to ‘create zero waste’ and to be ‘packaging-neutral.’
We will spend considerable time talking about our plans to work towards these long-term goals next month at this year’s Walmart Sustainable Packaging Conference in Toronto on June 19.
Internally, we will continue to promote our associate-driven sustainability program called My Sustainability Plan, or MSP as it is widely known.
It is a global voluntary, associate-driven movement that encourages our associates to choose and execute small, individual actions that make a difference, which can range from using a reusable coffee mug to switching over to energy-efficient CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs at home. My personal MSP is to ride a bike or carpool to work at least once a week.
What can you do in your position as chief merchandising officer to help drive further sustainability progress at Walmart Canada operations and throughout its supply chain?
Out of the three key global sustainability objectives mentioned earlier, it is ‘to sell the products that sustain people and the environment’ where the merchandising team can have the biggest impact of all.
For us, selling sustainable merchandise means examining the entire lifespan of a product: from conception to materials and on to its use as an end-product and, finally, to its disposal.
Naturally, we can only improve the sustainability of a product by working in close partnership with our suppliers and their packaging partners, and by sharing all our information and our best practices with them.
Please reflect on Walmart Canada’s accomplishments to date, and also on what Canadian consumers can expect from you in coming years?
Walmart Canada is a mature business within Walmart’s global operations.
We started up in Canada with 122 Woolco stores and 16,000 associates, whereas today we have 333 stores—including 167 Supercentre stores, which are our key growth vehicle, and 166 discount stores—employing almost 90,000 Canadian associates.
These stores serve more than one million Canadian customers each day, and our regular price comparisons show that we save Canadian families an estimated $17 million a month.
Walmart Canada also has very strong philanthropy and sustainability programs. In fact, we are ranked ‘Number One’ in Canada for environmental leadership, according to the Ipsos-Reid polling firm, and last year we donated and raised more than $25 million to various Canadian charities.
In coming years we will continue to maintain our keen focus on packaging optimization and on using more packaging materials that are easily recycled.
In addition, we plan to increase recycled content of our product packaging, along with increasing the content derived from sustainably-sourced renewable resources across our full product range.