Sustainability

Feeding the World Demands Change from Farm to Fork

Last weekend, in the wake of one of the longest, coldest winters in recent memory, my family and I walked in the spring sunshine, past stands of oaks and blossoming redbuds, along the winding trails of Crystal Bridges.  We love our new Ozarks home, and have been reveling in the signs of spring all around us. We are excited to celebrate Earth Day in “the Natural State” of Arkansas.

Here at Walmart, we’ve been marking Earth Day with the release of our Global Responsibility Report and the renewal of our commitment to sustainability. While we are proud of our progress in energy, waste, and product chains, we have a long way to go.  

Nowhere is this more the case than in the food chain.  In the next 30 years, the world population will approach 9 billion, putting further stress on already-strained natural capital.  As the world’s largest grocer, we are concerned with one of the greatest challenges of our time: how to help provide people on every continent with food that is safe, affordable, and sustainable for people and planet.

healthier food stock image


No one can solve this alone.  Progress will require collaborative problem solving among people all along the food chain – from farmers and fishers to transporters, development agencies, manufacturers, scientists, activists, regulators, retailers and consumers.  It’s why, for example, Walmart recently joined USAID’s groundbreaking Global Development Lab, along with a number of other organizations, to develop innovative solutions to development challenges such as this.

Will you join Walmart and so many others in creating a more sustainable food chain? Here are just a few of the ways we are trying to make a difference, from field (and ocean) to fork:

Resilient sourcing: We’re working with farmers to adopt innovative agriculture practices that preserve the environment and are fair to the people who use them. For example, we are working with partners on technologies to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, and to conserve water; and we recently joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Fair Food Program – an initiative to improve farmworkers’ working conditions and wages.

Waste reduction: We’re addressing food waste all along the chain - for example, by gleaning fallen produce from the ground, and making use of an entire crop.  We cull fresh food from our stores before it goes bad, so that instead of becoming waste sent to landfill, it gets sent to hunger relief organizations and then on to people who need it most.  

Food safety: Walmart was the first U.S. grocer to require suppliers of food products such as produce, meat, fish, poultry and ready-to-eat foods to have their factories certified against one of the internationally recognized Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards. We are bringing our food safety approaches to our operations around the world, including not only North America, but in many countries across Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Food security and access: Improving access to affordable food is a core part of our business strategy. It’s why we’re saving customers more than $1 billion each year on fresh produce and opening stores in food deserts. Earlier this month, we announced the rollout of affordable organic foods under the Wild Oats label.  And for years, we’ve worked with food banks to provide more links from our stores and suppliers, as well as the infrastructure to support a permanent cold chain – all in an effort to route millions of pounds of food to communities that need it most.

Making healthy easy: Of course, it’s not just about feeding the world – it’s about feeding families well. So we’re taking the homework out of healthy shopping, working with suppliers to reduce sugars and sodium and remove trans fats in everyday foods, while making the more nutritious choices easier to spot with our Great For You icon in stores. We’re providing tips and tools for how to turn these foods into simple, healthy and delicious meals, and working with valuable partners to educate families on cooking skills and nutrition.

We are committed to using our strengths – our market access, investment dollars, technological expertise and scale – to help others.  Please join us; bring your unique strengths to the table, and work with us, to set the table for everyone. 

Be the first to comment on this article

Opportunity

Seeing My Future at Walmart

That’s a line from one of my poems – I’ve been writing inspirational poetry most of my life. I’ve tried to live by the truth in those words ever since I was a young child who loved to ride bikes and had dreams of growing up to be a football player.

When I was five years old, I was confronted with a very real and dangerous enemy – a brain tumor that was pressing on my optic nerve. Doctors successfully removed the tumor – likely saving my life – however, when I woke it was to a world of blindness.

That tumor might have gotten to my sight but it didn’t get my spirit, and it hasn’t stopped me from dreaming. I still get to ride bikes – I live out in the country where I can ride freely – and I shifted from a dream of football to the reality of playing baseball.

Beep baseball, that is.

In beep baseball we use a ball that beeps so you know where to swing and where to track to catch. The game also has beeping bases so you know where to run and throw. I play outfield, and I’m pretty good, and so is my team, the Tyler Tigers. In fact, we’ve traveled to places like Georgia and Minnesota for the beep baseball championships.

John Geeter grabs a gallon of milk from a shelf in a Walmart dairy department back room

Today I’m working on a new dream – to grow in my career at Walmart. About 18 months ago I started in a training program with Goodwill that helped me develop key retail skills. The training included an on-the-job assignment in the produce department at my local Walmart store in Tyler, Texas.

After proving myself in the Goodwill program, I got an interview with Walmart, and they hired me on as a permanent associate – I celebrated my one-year anniversary in February – and now I work in the dairy department. I used Braille labels on signs when I first started at Walmart so I’d know where everything was supposed to go; however, I’ve learned my department so well I don’t even need the Braille signage anymore. If a customer asks me where to find the butter or milk, I can take her right to it.

John Geeter is wearing a Walmart navy vest and is smiling in front of the dairy department

I like working for Walmart – they saw how hard I worked while in the Goodwill program and they worked with me to find a place where I could fit. The thing I like most is working around other people and helping my fellow associates get acclimated to working with a person with a disability. The next step for me is to work with department managers and other leaders in my store to determine what I need to learn in order to pursue growth opportunities with Walmart.

I tell everybody that I look at each day as a challenge. I’m ready to take that challenge head on because I want more for myself and those who come behind me – I want to leave a legacy that other people with disabilities can follow.

Be the first to comment on this article

Sustainability

The Makeup of Makeup and More: Improving Ingredient Transparency

Imagine you’re standing in a store aisle looking for a new brand of lotion that won’t irritate your baby’s skin. You find yourself surveying at least a dozen different lotion labels trying to understand and compare product ingredients. The process is frustrating, slow, and confusing – what are some of these things even used for?

You are not alone. A lack of product ingredient information is a very common problem. Fortunately, the situation is improving. In the past few years, more and more companies have taken action to make product information more transparent to consumers, including the sharing of ingredients online. Walmart is one of these companies.  

As outlined in its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, Walmart has started an effort to list the ingredients contained within its private label consumable products – personal care and household products that you use up, such as aftershave, baby lotions, cleaners, or pet shampoo – on walmart.com. Walmart’s policy also asks national brand suppliers, like Procter and Gamble, Revlon and Pro-Sense, to follow this lead and include product ingredient information on their own websites.

Sharing lists of ingredients on Walmart’s website is a positive development for customers. Greater online access to this information makes it easier to find out what’s in products and to compare ingredients across products so that customers can ultimately make more informed purchasing decisions. For an example, consider cleaning products.  If you’ve ever tried to figure out what’s inside a cleaning product while shopping, you know it can be difficult – for the most part, ingredients are not required to be disclosed on the packaging of cleaning products.

Today, you can find on Walmart.com a list of ingredients for most private label products covered by the policy.  See for example, “ingredients” listed under “about this item” for a bottle of Equate body wash. According to Walmart’s implementation guide, product ingredients are to be listed in descending order of concentration using a standard naming convention called INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). This standard is already in use by many product manufacturers and helps create consistency that is designed to allow for easier identification and comparison of ingredients across products. Walmart’s policy is being implemented in steps, so not all of Walmart’s product listings disclose ingredients as outlined in the policy and implementation guide.  Walmart continues to build and improve upon this important first step.  

We’re encouraged to see that product ingredient transparency is becoming more standard practice in the marketplace. We’re especially pleased with companies like Clorox and Seventh Generation that have taken leadership steps on ingredient disclosure by providing ingredient information in multiple languages and identifying an ingredient’s function, or purpose, in a product. This is good news for the growing number of consumers interested in making informed decisions about the products we buy and use every day.

But the benefits of ingredient disclosure may well extend far beyond our everyday shopping trips. Businesses that commit to consumers on ingredient disclosure provide valuable information that can ultimately help drive safer chemicals into the marketplace.

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a senior scientist, and Alissa Sasso is a research consultant. Both contributors work for the Environmental Defense Fund.    

Be the first to comment on this article

Community

Among the Essentials, a Delivery of Hope

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, David Simmons’ first thought wasn’t the minor damage to his home in Mississippi. It was calling the Walmart dispatch station to see how he could help through his job as a truck driver.

He was sure there was plenty of emergency freight that had to be delivered, but that wasn’t a request he was met with on the other end of the line. The operator instead asked how his family fared in the storm, and told him to stay home and take care of his property as there were drivers coming from all over to assist with the recovery.

Later, he did get a chance to help – hauling donated merchandise for the Salvation Army – and says that it remains to this day one of the most fulfilling moments of his driving career.

“From food, clothing and water to even roofing materials, it was all needed and appreciated by the residents of the Gulf Coast,” David said.

Rickey Oliver, too, remembers Katrina as a moment he was proud to work for Walmart. One of the drivers who participated in a convoy of trucks that waited to enter one of the most heavily damaged areas of New Orleans, Rickey thought for a moment that the abandoned-looking area around him was actually empty. 

A man proudly holds a 2005 image of Walmart trucks waiting to enter affected areas of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina

“To my amazement, like in the movie Field of Dreams they came, walking in from every street, every corner, out of buildings I thought for sure no one would be in. All hungry and thirsty and desperate for help, and we … were the help,” Rickey said. “I don’t think a person can truly express the feeling or the honor one receives in doing this kind of thing.”

Gary Mars, another Walmart driver who was part of that same convoy, feels the same way. Carrying water, generators, and food – plus ice, important during hot August weather in Louisiana – was a critical role to fill.

“I remember the sense of pride I felt as we convoyed into New Orleans and surrounding cities, as nearly every vehicle we met was waving at us as we passed, and several had makeshift signs saying, ‘Thank you, Walmart,’” Gary said. “I was relatively new to Walmart, but I knew at that point that this was a place to permanently call home. It’s amazing to me just how quick lives can change, just in a moment. It’s very humbling.” 

Be the first to comment on this article

Community

One Nurse, 16 Infants, and a Storm’s Ultimate Test

Medea Gabriel is not a hero, she insists.

During Hurricane Katrina, there were many others she believes are equally deserving of that title. Her fellow medical staff at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center who worked while separated from their families. Her best friend, Monique, who took Medea’s ailing mother to evacuate on her own. Also, the strangers she remembers driving their personal boats to pick up patients and staff from the hospital and navigate them to dry land.

But as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, Medea helped wrap up 16 babies and move them to shelter through a hole in the wall that led to a truck bed. The truck bed was to take them to a helicopter and then, safety, but once Medea passed each infant through the wall, she had no idea if outside realities would let that happen.

Today, she knows that nearly all of those babies somehow survived on the way to their destination, Baton Rouge Women’s Hospital. While one of them did pass away, she doesn’t know how or when, because that hospital has since closed. She recently got a Facebook message from one of the mothers who wanted to thank her for what she did that day.

“It was surreal to know how much I impacted her life and that she remembered me,” Medea said. “Just knowing that these kids are now 10 years old lets me go on.”

Photo shows the inside of a neonatal intensive care unit

When Medea transported those infants that day, she says she was simply doing her job. Once the job was complete, she turned her full attention toward her mother, whom she sent with her best friend to get on a boat to safety. She had to pack up her mother’s medicine, waterproof her medical records and dosage instructions and staple them to the inside of her mother’s clothes so they didn’t get lost. She then sent her two loved ones off to stay with a college roommate whom she believed in her heart would take them in, but she didn’t know for sure. It was the second big moment that day where she had to simply act.

Thankfully, two days later – after Medea herself had to leave the hospital not knowing her next resting place – she found out that her mother was, in fact, alive.

While many things have changed for Medea since then, like a new job and also a new husband, she has returned home to New Orleans and works with pediatric patients once again, this time doing HIV research.

“I’m in a totally different place than I was before Katrina,” she said. “I’ve found peace and joy in this recovery.”

Editor’s Note: You can hear more of Medea’s story in a four-part podcast created by Good360, a disaster relief organization that works to improve the way communities can connect with much-needed supplies.    

Be the first to comment on this article