The last year or so may not have been the best of times for the environmental movement worldwide—given the lamentable failure of the Copenhagen climate-change summit and much public anxiety over the weakening global economy—but there has been little to suggest that the Canadian consumers have lost much of their collective zeal and enthusiasm for greater environmental sustainability in their everyday products.
So it is then hardly surprising that the country’s biggest retailer, Walmart Canada, has not skipped a beat in fulfilling its publicly-stated pledge to Canadian consumers about continuing to reduce the environmental footprint of its massive operations—in large part through implementation of the company’s ambitious Packaging Scorecard initiative, designed to enable its parent company Walmart Stores Inc. to achieve a five-percent packaging reduction across its global operations by 2013.
Formally launched in Canada on July 1, 2009, the looming deadline does not leave very much time for the Canadian-based Walmart vendors and their packaging suppliers to achieve their respective target reductions, which is way this month’s Walmart Packaging Sustainability Conference IV—produced and managed by PAC-The Packaging Association of Toronto— takes on an a much greater sense of urgency in accelerating the development of new product and packaging innovations to keep Walmart’s packaging objectives on track than the last three joint Walmart-PAC conferences.
Suitably being held on the internationally-designated Earth Day, April 22, at the Toronto Congress Centre, the half-day event will feature a number or presentations, workshops, progress reports, survey results and tabletop exhibits arranged to emphasize the event’s main mission and theme: How to Embed Sustainability into Your Corporation.
As one of the event’s two main keynote speakers, Walmart Canada’s recently-appointed new chief merchandising and marketing officer Duncan MacNaughton will update the Canadian vendors and their packaging suppliers on how far they have come along in their use of the Packaging Scorecard to make their packaging more sustainable so far, as well as spell out Walmart’s expectations and targets for the coming years.
To get a better sense of his views on the subject, the Canadian Packaging magazine recently approached MacNaughton to ascertain Walmart Canada’s continued commitment to true packaging and manufacturing sustainability.
Q Could you explain the significance of the environmental sustainability movement to Walmart Canada?
A Walmart Canada believes that environmental sustainability and business sustainability go hand-in-hand. Being a steward of the environment is the right thing to do, but it’s also critical for the long-term success of our business.
We have an incredible opportunity, because of the scope of our business, to bring about significant environmental change within our own operations, with our suppliers, and also with the more than one million customers we serve every day.
Q What has Walmart Canada done recently in its operations to make them more environmentally-friendly and sustainable?
A Last year Walmart Canada opened its first environmental demonstration store in Burlington, Ontario, which features a first-of-its-kind application of geothermal technology in a large-scale Canadian retail operation, along with numerous energy-conserving lighting innovations and other sustainable features.
This Supercentre store, featuring a full grocery products operation, is expected to use an estimated 60 per cent less energy than our previously-built Supercentres—equating to an estimated reduction in annual carbon emissions of 141 tonnes. It is also expected to divert an estimated 85 per cent of its waste from landfill through a variety of recycling programs.
Earlier this year, we announced plans to open a sustainable refrigerated DC (distribution center) in Alberta, which we estimate will be 60-percent more energy-efficient than our company’s traditional refrigerated DCs.
It will also be the first-ever refrigerated DC facility to be lit exclusively by low-energy solid-state (LED) lighting, and will also be our first Canadian test site for application of fuelcell technology, with additional plans for testing solar and wind energy.
Also this year, we announced plans to conduct two significant wind and solar power projects in Ontario, including installation of a rooftop solar system and a wind turbine at two separate Walmart store locations.
Notably, Walmart Canada also held its first Green Business Summit this year in Vancouver—a high-profile event that brought together more than 300 of Canada’s largest corporations, NGOs, academics and government leaders to share the business case for sustainability.
Q What is Walmart Canada doing to enable Canadian consumers to make more environmentally-friendly purchasing decisions at its stores?
A Walmart Canada carries over 700 environmentally-preferable products across the business—ranging from environmentally-friendly cleaning products to CFL (compact fluorescent) lightbulbs—and it is clear that our customers are continuing to embrace environmentally-preferable products.
Our research has shown that they are concerned about the environment and are always looking for ways to make a difference, and we firmly believe our customers shouldn’t have to be making a choice between products they can afford and products that are better for the environment.
At the same time, we have invited Canadian consumers, to voice their concerns about the packaging of specific products on our website (www.forthegreenergood.ca), and we are using this collected feedback as we work towards the implementation of Packaging Scorecard goals and objectives—namely working with our suppliers to reduce the packaging of products by five per cent by 2013.
We believe this goal is entirely achievable and we’ll continue to take bold steps to reach it.
Q Why the focus on packaging reduction?
A It’s estimated that just eight per cent per cent of our environmental footprint is the result of our operations, with 92 per cent comings from the products we carry. That being the case, packaging is an area of our business where Walmart’s scale can drive substantial industry-wide change.
Q What are some of the concrete results in packaging reduction that Walmart Canada achieved since introducing the Packaging Scorecard system to its suppliers?
A Over 65 per cent of all the new cardboard packaging is now made from 100-percent recycled material, and 30 per cent uses vegetable-based dyes and inks for printing.
In 2008, Walmart Canada announced that it would phase out all PVC plastic packaging in the energy-saving light bulb category and replace it with the more environmentally-preferable cardboard packaging. The change will eliminate an estimated 150,000 pounds of PVC plastic waste each year, while significantly increasing package recyclability and saving natural resources.
Q Could you provide a specific example of a Walmart Canada supplier using the Packaging Scorecard to implement a significant improvement in packaging sustainability?
A We have achieved very good success in packaging sustainability recently with our Great Value private label brand.
Before the packaging makeover, the frozen poultry for the Great Value Chicken Fingers, Chicken Burgers and Breaded Chicken Burgers was contained in a paperboard carton that was coated with a wax lining to protect the integrity of the package from moisture in the freezer. This wax coating prevented the packaging from being recycled through the conventional recycling facilities.
After being challenged to make its packaging more sustainable as per our Packaging Scorecard methodology, the vendor developed new product packaging that achieved significant sustainability improvements, including the use of 100-percent recyclable cartons for all three product lines, as well as packaging reductions of 19 and 16 per cent by weight for two sizes, with an 18.2-percent overall packaging reduction for all three items.
These packaging improvements equal 16.3 tonnes of paperboard diverted from landfills to recycling facilities, and 2.5 tonnes of less paperboard being consumed for packaging, per year.
Q So how satisfied are you with way that your Canadian vendors and their packaging suppliers have responded to the Packaging Scorecard to date?
A We’re very happy with the progress that company and our vendors have made with the Packaging Scorecard. Our vendors have clearly embraced it and we believe they are seeing the business benefits of thinking of packaging through the sustainability lens.
Q Describe the extent of Walmart’s long-term commitment to environmental sustainability.
A Walmart Canada believes that we have an opportunity to drive significant environmental change today and well into the future.
Everyday, and for the long-term, we’re guided by the sustainability goals of generating zero waste; to be powered 100-percent by renewable energy; and to sell products that help sustain both people and the environment.
Meeting these goals will take innovation and bold thinking, but we believe that these goals are all 100-percent achievable.