Curveballs aplenty at the special session "Market-based Solutions for Protecting the Environment" at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative. The panel, which included Matt Kistler, the Senior Vice President of Marketing Wal-Mart and Dr. Sanjayan, the lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy, convened to discuss how business can address issues like water shortages and climate change, and turn a profit in the process. The biggest surprise came at the end of the session, when Kistler teared up discussing the great scope of the problems pursuing sustainability and addressing climate change presents. Needless to say, it was interesting to hear what Kistler had to say, and not just because of the twist at the end. He discussed the already-apparent benefits that Wal-Mart is seeing from instituting its much touted Sustainability Index, and attempting to green its processes from the supply chain up. Kistler claimed that the company had saved over $200 million dollars by making its shipping fleet more efficient alone. He insisted that every part of the program had been immediately good for the corporation's bottom line; that it was seeing sizable savings as a result.
But at 57:21, check out Kistler's closing remarks about why Wal-Mart will continue to pursue sustainability and climate-friendly policies: because the consumer will demand it, and companies like Wal-Mart may have no choice.
Why he teared up as he did isn't immediately clear -- perhaps the prospect of catastrophic climate change is truly upsetting to him. Or perhaps he was struck by the severe cynicality presented by Dr. Sanjayan of the Nature Conservancy, who spoke right before him and lamented that "nobody really cares about their grandchildren", arguing that may be part of the reason why we fail time and again to pass forward-thinking climate policy -- we're too selfish.
Either way, it was a supremely odd moment -- and a striking one, to say the least -- to see one of the most powerful marketing directors in the world (for the world's largest retailer, no less) break down over green issues.
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