The TH Interview: Wal-Mart Suppliers on the Live Better Sustainability Summit


As we mentioned in our interview with Mark and Corey Adjmi of Adjmi Apparel Group, one of the most interesting things about attending the Wal-Mart Live Better Sustainability Summit, which we reported on here and here, was seeing suppliers to Wal-Mart that had not traditionally been seen as green, starting to look into the process of cleaning up their operations. We took the opportunity to talk to a few of the supplier's representatives that were wandering the isles, and to ask them briefly about their perspectives on sustainability, why it is important to them, and what needs to happen to take it further into the mainstream.

Rick Cartwright Vice President and General Manager, Hobart Corporation
TreeHugger: What brings you to this summit?
Rick Cartwright: A couple of things — we have been interested for quite some time in moving towards more sustainable products. For us, that really gets into energy efficiency, reduced water usage etc, things that can really have a great impact on the environment. We've already done some things over the last few years, but we are looking to do more. So we're here to learn more, to find out what Wal-Mart is doing, and to figure out how we can move in the right direction, both in partnership with Wal-Mart and on our own. Not only do these efforts make a positive impact on the environment, they also make us more profitable.
TH: What would you say are the top three issues today in terms of sustainability for business?
RC: There are still gaps in technology, in energy reduction for example. There are places where it's difficult to be sustainable and remain profitable, which is a challenge as we are publicly owned companies that are required to make money for our shareholders, and lastly, everything is changing so fast. That makes sustainability a challenge for manufacturers who have a long design cycle, as it becomes tough to keep up-to-date with the latest technology and the latest science.

Mark Brandt, CEI Engineering
TreeHugger: What brings you to the sustainability summit?
Mark Brandt: I'm part of a Wal-Mart support team. We do civil desing for Wal-Mart as well as other clients, and our company has a big interest in sustainability.

TH: What would you say are the top drivers for companies to adopt sustainability into their business model?
MB: I think probably the first thing that needs to happen is people need to see a chance for profitability. Unfortunately, with capitalism, this is a necessary evil. Companies need to see that they will make a return on their investment or it's not going to happen. Secondly, I think there is a motivation for people to leave a legacy, and to give something back to their communities. Sadly, I think we have these two motivations reversed right now, in terms of importance, but they are two of the more significant drivers.

TH: What do you think needs to happen for this to go truly mainstream?
MB: I think what is being offered here today has to be coalesced into something that's palatable for the average person. I've made a change at home, but it was a big effort for me, in terms of finding the right recycling containers etc. But now I'm down to one three gallon refuse sack a month, everything else goes to the compost pile, gets fed to the dogs, or gets recycled. But everyone else in my neighbourhood still sets out two trash cans a week. The internet helped a lot, but if somebody was there to bridge the gap and meet you half way, it would be a big help. We need someone to say "Here's what you do. It's easy." Some people come to something like this and they are overwhelmed, they don't know where to start.

TH: SO everybody wants to do the right thing, but they have trouble figuring out what that right thing is?
MB: That's right, they need easy steps. Everybody I talk to, both at work and in my neighbourhood, wants to do the right thing, they just don't know where to get started. They are also scared to take big steps because they think it will cost them more in the long run. Budgets are tight in families, and in corporations, and there isn't a guarantee at this point that what you are doing is going to be worthwhile.


Bob Blaine, Sakar International

TreeHugger: Why are you here, and what makes sustainability such an important issue for you?
Bob Blaine: I guess two things — we are definitely interested in doing things that are better for the Earth, but the other thing is Wal-Mart is asking for it, so we want to give it to them. We are trying to learn about all that and find out what we can do. We know that if two products are equal, but one has sustainability issues covered, then that product will win. We want to win.

TH: What would you say are the biggest issues in terms of sustainability in your business today?
BB: The electronics industry has a reputation for taking away and not giving back. So we've got to work on using more environmentally friendly materials, recycled plastics etc.

TH: What needs to happen to make that easier, and to take sustainability into the mainstream of business thinking?
BB: Well things like this are obviously very good, where we can learn. As a smaller private company, we are on our own in terms of finding out all these things. So conferences like this where people can tell us what's important, and how to go about doing it, are hugely helpful.
::Sakar International::CEI Engineering::Hobart Corporation::via Live Better Sustainability Summit::

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