Asda (Walmart) Talks Green with TreeHugger

asda green photo

Images from Asda

Walmart is called Asda in the UK and is the second biggest supermarket in the land. But Tesco, the supermarket that everyone loves to hate, and Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, with their high-profile environmental reputations, are better known to TreeHugger readers.

Asda's claim is affordability; they are a cheaper store than the others, with all their locations outside of central London. But, similar to Walmart in the USA, they too have been touting sustainability and introducing good environmental practices. A conversation with the Head of Corporate Policy for Sustainability & Ethics at Asda has revealed some insight into their green initiatives.

julian palin photo

Image by B. Alter

Julian Walker-Palin is Head of Corporate Policy for Sustainability & Ethics at Asda. He says that he is passionate about green issues and this is obvious in his enthusiasm in discussing environmental issues.

1. Asda and the Environment

According to Walker-Palin, Asda has cut its carbon emissions by 7% in the last two years. It has taken more than 80,000 tons of CO2 equivalent out of its operations since 2007. They also have a target to send zero waste to landfill by the end of 2010. Asda is diverting almost 200,000 tons of waste from landfill sites by recycling and reusing materials in its store and depots.

2. Asda and Organic Food

For Asda, affordability is their number one issue and they want to "make sustainability affordable for all." They have 2 mid-range priced house products, called Asda Organic and Asda Fairtrade which are just that. Their third one,called Good-Natured, is pesticide free.

Asda got into the organic market three years ago and took a lower margin on its sales. They lowered their price and all the other supermarkets followed suit. According to a Soil Association report, last year Asda had the highest sales of organic amongst all the big supermarkets. However this is definitely declining now, as their shoppers can't afford the premium brand, so now they are going to the Asda Local brand which has continued to be a strong brand. He does think that the sales will go up again.

good natured photo

3. Supporting Local Producers

Waitrose has a reputation for supporting local producers. Walker-Palin said that Asda has started local sourcing hubs, approaching small suppliers and setting up distribution networks with them. He said that a huge amount of their food is sourced from the UK, certainly in greater volumes than Waitrose, which is a smaller chain. There is a local sourcing specialist team which visits different farming areas and works with farmers and suppliers to get them up to the proper level for store sales.

There is a great push for home delivery which is easier because their stores are not in central London. They can get 40 deliveries in the back of a van which takes a lot of cars off the road. But this is the source of the stores' largest carbon foot print.

4. George line of Clothing

It's not all perfect. The "George" line of clothing, which is their fast fashion brand ( high fashion clothes at a very cheap price), does not make any of their line in organic or Fairtrade cotton and has no plans to do so. That's unfortunate since it is the third largest fast fashion line after Marks & Spencer and Primark. In the US they do use organic cotton. He says that they are working with factories to reduce energy and water usage.

5. Asda's Customers and the Environment

Walker-Palin feels that Asda's customers care about the environment and that the company sends out a consistent message to consumers about it. They work with staff to interact with customers to act as "green champions" in each store. He described a trial in one store where they are selling fabric conditions in re-usable pouches and offering it at a cheaper price. He wants to make it cheaper to be sustainable and entice people into it that way.

He played down Walmart's American influence, saying that the Asda strategy is separate because of the culture. People are more aware of the environment here and there is more legislation. For example, the carbon market is more regulated here than in the USA so Asda has to do certain things that the American stores do not.

We could have continued for hours, but work was calling. Lots to think about whilst food shopping.

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