Sustainability

One Company is Helping Keep Walmart and Our Communities in the ‘Green’

Glenn H. Garrett set a standard for protecting community waterways long before “going green” became a common refrain.

In 1996, after witnessing the damage left behind by hurricanes earlier that year, the disabled Marine Corps veteran launched his own business, Retention Pond Services, in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C.

The storms had destroyed the basins that hold stormwater and they were overflowing. Glenn decided to do something about it. Luckily, four years in the Marine Corps – from 1980 to 1984 – prepared him for the hard work ahead.

“It’s not glamorous, not high tech. It’s done with good, old-fashioned manpower,” he said of his business.

Glenn developed a relationship with Walmart in 2002 when a store in Wilmington had a runoff issue in the parking lot. Walmart’s construction division called the state’s stormwater regulators and asked for a recommendation on whom to hire for help. Retention Pond Services was their answer.

When the same issue happened again, this time at another store, Walmart decided to expand the maintenance procedures developed with Glenn’s company. From there, it went nationwide.

Retention Pond Services now repairs, maintains and services stormwater systems for 1,200 Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs across the U.S. The goal is to help Walmart meet rules and regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency and reduce the risk of water pollution.

“I remember my first meeting with Walmart [representatives], and they started talking about being ‘green’. I had never heard anyone talk about green – being environmentally conscious,” he said, adding that the retailer encourages suppliers to be responsible by leading by example.

He didn’t realize it at the time, but Glenn and his company would play a major role in bringing that to fruition. He said Walmart has become a standard bearer of stormwater maintenance for big-box retailers throughout the U.S.

Retention Pond Services began with 16 employees. Fast-forward 20 years and it now employs as many as 250 workers each year, including Glenn and three other senior leaders, with clients ranging from retailers to municipalities. The number fluctuates with the seasons, but one thing remains constant – there are always military veterans like Glenn on staff. Several veterans started in junior positions and moved up through the ranks.

The business was hiring veterans before Walmart introduced its Veterans Welcome Home Commitment in 2013, but Glenn said the initiative is a great encouragement for suppliers and veterans alike. “It goes back to [Walmart] recognizing our service and appreciating what we’ve done,” he said. As a veteran himself, Glenn knows that the skills and can-do attitude learned in the military easily transfer over to civilian jobs. Glenn takes pride in his team – “I’m only as good as my worst employee” – and in protecting the environment. Much of that pride stems from his childhood in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

“My grandfather used to tell me how great fishing was – about catching massive fish. When I was growing up, there were no fish. The bay was essentially dead, killed by pollution and runoff.”

In the 1970s, Maryland got involved in a save-the-bay campaign, and the federal government’s Water Quality Act followed in 1987. Those actions helped return fishing in the bay to its former glory.

Caring for the environment comes at a cost, whether it be time or money, but the results are well worth it. As U.S. businesses continue to grow, Glenn and his team are ready to step in and protect our communities.

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Innovation

My Journey From EE to IoT at Walmart’s DFW Tech Hub

Before I joined the team here, I had no idea how innovative a 50-year-old retail company could be.

Like most people, I had interacted with Walmart as a customer in stores and online but had never really thought about the systems and technology functioning behind the scenes to make the whole thing work.

As we officially open our new Walmart Technology satellite HQ in Plano, Texas, this week, I’m reflecting on my evolving, 20-year journey in tech — from building circuit boards to developing software to, now, exploring ways to apply advances in the internet of things (IoT), machine learning, object detection and other emerging technologies in the increasingly blended world of physical-digital retail.

Here’s a great example:

It might seem like a small thing, but spills are a big deal on the sales floor. So we developed a concept to help stores quickly detect spills, building a quick alert system that linked a camera with a Raspberry Pi and sensors that sent photos and data from the sales floor to the cloud. There, we deployed learning algorithms to analyze and build models that helped identify spills.

It wasn’t perfect – but it worked! And even though we won’t bring our prototype to life in stores at scale, we’re able to learn fast and apply those learnings to other projects — like using machine learning and IoT similar to our Raspberry Pi-based sensory concept to cut energy use and cost, all while keeping the temperature comfortable for associates and customers in our stores.

I’ve only been at Walmart four months, but it’s been a blast. I’m still blown away by the many different applications of emerging technology in something as simple as a retail store. But really, retail isn’t simple. It’s complex, the scale is insane and the industry is rapidly transforming. What an awesome time and place to experiment, innovate, fail fast and learn quickly.

It makes my brain happy, and I’m glad it’s happening here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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Sustainability

Bringing You a Perfect – and Sustainable – Cup of Joe

Having a good cup of coffee is a morning ritual for most of us. There’s nothing like the aroma of that first cup.

At Walmart, we are working to provide a range of coffee product options that are affordable, high-quality and that build trust with our customers.

One way we’re doing this is by sourcing third-party certified sustainably-grown coffee for products sold in our stores and clubs. For example, we are proud to sell merchandise with Rainforest Alliance Certified seals. These seals indicate that, according to the standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, certain products were grown with care by farmers working to build sustainable livelihoods and thriving communities.

We also are the first major North American retailer to join Conservation International’s Sustainable Coffee Challenge. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge is a collaborative effort of companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and others seeking to advance sustainability efforts in the coffee sector. In joining The Challenge, Walmart set a goal to purchase all of its private brand coffee sustainably by the end of 2020. We know our customers are looking for sustainable options, and when they enjoy the aroma of our private brand coffee, we want to be able to meet their expectations.

As a retailer, we value the men and women who produce the products our customers want, and we expect our suppliers to provide workers with safe and healthy working conditions. Earlier this year, Walmart reinforced this expectation at the first convening of the World Coffee Producers Forum in Medellin, Colombia. During my remarks at the forum, I spoke to coffee sector representatives about how we can create a more equitable value chain that benefits customers, workers and businesses.

During a recent tour of the La Miranda Farm on the outskirts of Medellin, Colombia, we had the privilege to speak with Gonzalo Valencia – a passionate coffee grower with more than 30 years of experience. Mr. Valencia provided valuable insights on some of the challenges and opportunities that exist in the coffee value chain. Multiple generations of Mr. Valencia’s family have worked as coffee growers, much like scores of other growers throughout Latin America and Africa who have contributed to our Great Value Classic Roast and Sam’s Choice Colombia Supremo coffee blends.

Our engagement with coffee bean growers such as Mr. Valencia and other cultivators around the world gives us important insights on how we can assist them and improve the sustainability of coffee production.

By selling products with certifications and incorporating feedback from coffee growers, we are working to make our coffee value chain effective and sustainable for everyone, from the farmers to our customers and that first delicious sip in the morning.

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Innovation

Hundreds More High-Tech Pickup Towers are Headed Your Way

You know how handy vending machines can be when you’re craving a snack or a drink. But have you ever imagined a giant vending machine that could help you get your online orders faster and save you money on shipping?

It may sound like a high-tech dream, but these machines, known as Pickup Towers, became a reality in nearly 200 of our stores over the last year. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, more than half a million orders have been retrieved through the towers since we first introduced them.

Because of this success, we’re rapidly expanding this pickup program by adding more than 500 additional Pickup Towers to stores across the country, bringing the total to more than 700 by the end of the year. With this expansion, Pickup Towers will be available to nearly 40% of the U.S. population.

Our customers have been clear: They love the Pickup Tower. But, they also told us they wanted the ability to retrieve larger items the same way. That’s why every new Pickup Tower will come with Pickup Lockers, making it just as easy to pick up that new TV as it is to pick up a new baseball glove.

But why stop there? We’ve launched all kinds of innovative services for busy families, including Online Grocery Pickup, Pickup Discount, Mobile Express Scan & Go, our growing grocery delivery service and a new partnership with Google Express. We’re even testing additional concepts, similar to the Pickup Tower, that could make picking up your online order even better in the future.

As we continue to innovate, we’ll keep listening to our associates and customers to improve the Walmart experience – and who knows? – maybe next time you’re in a Walmart store you’ll be greeted by the newest way to save time and money.

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Community

This School-Run Garden is Helping Nourish an Arizona Community

Moencopi Day School in Tuba City, Arizona, has offered a garden learning program for over 10 years. But it was just last spring that student-grown produce first appeared on this elementary school’s cafeteria lunch line—a Hopi Nation first.

That special lunch was important for Moencopi Day School. For the fifth graders who made it happen, the impact came over months of learning and preparation. Guided by Steven Lomadafkie, a science and environmental educator at the school, and two AmeriCorps service members recruited and trained by FoodCorps, an organization connecting kids to healthier foods and the natural world, the students planted and tended lettuce, gaining skills and pride in the resulting harvest.

Through washing the greens and planning a school-wide party, the students built a connection with cafeteria staff—who saw the infectious enthusiasm kids could have for a vegetable. By modeling positive eating behaviors, these fifth graders became healthy food champions, spreading the joy of good nutrition to their peers. It’s the sum of these ongoing, school-wide experiences that shapes children’s eating habits and their lifelong benefits.

A belief in hands-on learning is something that Moencopi Day School is embracing in its second year of partnership with FoodCorps and local nonprofit Moenkopi Developers Corporation. This year’s FoodCorps service member, Curt Cebula, is building on last year’s progress, expanding greenhouse lessons to all grades and increasing the frequency of taste tests. “The kids love him,” Steven says of Curt. “Sometimes he’ll get 10 hugs before a class starts.”

Curt says he sees once-reluctant students now open to trying new foods—especially when they’ve had a hand in making them. Some parents have even told Steven their kids have asked to start a garden at home.

Moencopi’s parent liaison, Trinity Honahnie, says Curt has been instrumental in engaging the community, another critical ingredient in the FoodCorps recipe. His support of a new school-wide take-home meal kit program, featuring traditional Hopi foods and recipes, has helped parents connect with what’s happening at school while reinforcing healthy habits at home. A taste test he led at a parent-teacher conference sparked a new energy.

“It was just a turnaround overnight,” Trinity says. “Curt has really brought some light to our greenhouse program.”

Principals, teachers, and parents understand that this type of positive change is important. FoodCorps strives to make its program effective, accessible and relevant to all schools. This year it introduced a new series of elementary school hands-on food lessons, each tied to national academic standards, which teachers can adapt and weave into classroom lessons. Thanks to support from funders like the Walmart Foundation, this year FoodCorps will reach 160,000 kids around the country.

At the end of the day, FoodCorps serves to make it easier for schools to do what they do best: give students the nourishment they need, in body and mind, to thrive. It’s the passion of local leaders, like Steven, that makes the impact we seek truly possible.

“This is probably the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.

Erica Curry, director of program resources and practices at FoodCorps, oversees the development of resources for FoodCorps’ service program, including a new series of nutrition education lessons that makes it easier for schools to integrate hands-on nutrition education into standard curricula. FoodCorps is proud to be supported nationally by the Walmart Foundation as together we seek to reach children with high quality, impactful nutrition education that sets kids up for healthy futures.

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