Wal-Mart Reports Its Global Carbon Emissions in 2009 Sustainability Report

walmart carbon emissions image

Wal-Mart reports CO2 emissions for 2006, 2007, & 2008.

In its 2009 Sustainability Report Wal-Mart reports on its carbon emission reductions progress. A portion of a chart for the 2009 report, depicting emissions for the 2006 - 2008, is shown here. What makes it noteworthy is the straight-up explanation by Wal-Mart that the apparent reductions in emissions per unit of sales is associated with currency valuation swings. Here's the explanatory note:

During fiscal years 2006, 2007 and 2008, foreign currency exchange rates had a $1.4 billion USD, $1.5 billion USD and_$ 4.5 billion USD favorable impact on net sales, respectively. As a result, efficiency improvements when calculated as global CO2 emissions per $1 million USD of global net sales, appears stronger than if there had been no exchange rate impact on net sales. We fully expect future currency exchange rates and market conditions to impact this measurement and potentially impact future CO2 per net sales ratios either for the positive or for the negative.

First off, kudos to Wal-Mart for a straight up explanation. Now, how corporate emissions reporting will be accomplished for publicly-held corporations, in general.

Should every company publish a big sustainability report?
No. There are too many already that go largely unread. Anyhow, we should look forward to the day when the 'sustainability plan' becomes 'the Plan,' the day after which leaders have made their best efforts at implementing sustainable business models and practices: top to bottom.

Where, then, should corporate emission numbers be publicly reported?

Think about how publicly-held corporations currently go about presenting emissions information. Results are generally indicated both for the absolute annual emissions and for something of interest to stockholders - emissions per unit of sales is a common one. To get to that, companies need first to have completed their annual balance sheets, which is a job for the financial auditors.

Which approach will be more consistent and credible over the long term: teaching auditors how to evaluate and report carbon emissions or environmental engineers how to audit corporate finances?

Auditors, I think, are likely to be the ones deciding how such numbers are presented. Voluntary financial auditing standards will have to encompass best practices for greenhouse gas equivalent reporting. There's a green job category I bet few have contemplated.

More posts on Wal-Mart.
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