Sustainability

Notes from the Milestone Meeting

When Walmart began our sustainability journey, I never thought it would lead us to trucks like this.

We’re just beginning formal testing, but this Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience concept truck will be 20 percent more aerodynamic than our current trucks and have a micro-turbine hybrid powertrain that can run on diesel, natural gas, biodiesel and probably other fuels still to be developed. It may never make it to the road, but it will allow us to test new technologies and new approaches. I share it because it gives you a sense of how sustainability is helping us see things in new ways.

This was just one of the innovations we discussed at our Sustainability Milestone Meeting on Monday. We also talked about new ideas around less photogenic topics like air filters, buttons, and even landfills. By seeing through the lens of sustainability, we are accelerating the pace of innovation across our business.

We also heard from several leaders in our company about the progress we’re making against our goals to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain people and the environment.

A few thoughts after my first Milestone Meeting as CEO:

Leaning in on Products
We’re going to continue the good work around energy and waste while really leaning in on products. As we grow to a planet of 9 billion people who all want to live like we do, Walmart needs to provide access to food, clothing, and household goods that are sustainable for the planet at prices people can afford. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s right in line with our mission of saving people money so they can live better.

Thinking Holistically
We need more whole systems thinking. One of the great things about sustainability is that it helps you step back and see the big picture. Our responsibility to the planet is about more than the time a product is in our store. It’s about how it was grown or manufactured, how it was transported, and whether it can be reused or recycled. I especially want to thank the suppliers, NGOs, other retailers, and community members who attended on Monday because this type of effort takes all of us working together.

Caring about People
Sustainability is ultimately about people. Peter Seligmann from Conservation International joined us to share what his group is working on. They have a bold new campaign that will shake people up by pointing out that people need nature more than nature needs us. And they’re right. As a father, one of my “a-ha” moments around sustainability occurred when talking to my sons at the dinner table years ago when they were just boys. I asked them if Walmart should lead on sustainability, and they replied: “Duh, dad.” They’re going to need this planet long after I will.

Sharing the Excitement
Finally, I was reminded that this is important work but it can still be fun. I love innovating for our customers. I love seeing our organization get passionate about big issues. I love the difference Walmart can make. We had so many people from across the business stand up and share the projects they’re working on, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

It’s an exciting time to be at Walmart. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’re working hard every day to get better.

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Opportunity

Seeing Through my Blindness to a 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.

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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.    

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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.” 

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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.    

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