Photo credit: Walmart Stores/Creative Commons
This guest post was written by Camila Valverde, Director of Sustainability, Walmart Brazil.
Walmart's environmental sustainability goals aren't just limited to our operations in the United States; they extend everywhere around the world that we have a presence. At Walmart Brazil, one of the many sustainability initiatives that we've begun is our End-to-End Project, which analyzes the entire life cycle of select consumer products to reduce their environmental impact. We began End-to-End three years ago because we wanted to make the products our customers are buying more sustainable. At the time, many of our suppliers weren't aware of the benefits that come from greener products, and we wanted to help them integrate more sustainable practices in their businesses. We initiated a partnership with Cetea, the Packaging Technology Center, related to the Food Technology Institute, ITAL, to study products from the sourcing of raw materials to disposal of the waste after consumption. What we accomplished produced groundbreaking results.
We have completed two rounds of our End-to-End Project, and a total of 23 products have been studied and improved. In the first round, we chose 10 of our most strategic suppliers to participate—suppliers that would make the biggest impact on the market in specific categories. We challenged them to choose a top performing product to be studied—end-to-end—by Cetea at no cost to them. The 10 products included cooking oil, household cleaners, disposable diapers, beverages, fabric softener, bandages, as well as our leading private brand soap. We spent 18 months learning how these items could be improved or whether new, more eco-friendly products should be introduced to the market. By understanding the environmental impact of these products from end-to-end, we found big opportunities to decrease the materials used in packaging, decrease water usage during production, use more recycled materials or use materials that could be more easily recycled after the product's use.
Perhaps most importantly though, are the ripple effects that this project has across the supply chain. For example, when Unilever Brazil produced a concentrated fabric softener and saw the environmental benefits and customer interest, they implemented the same changes to more of their products. Likewise, when competitors witnessed Unilever's success, they also began making changes and improvements to their products, even though they weren't involved in the End-to-End Project.
One of the biggest success stories to come out of our first round of End-to-End is the improvements Johnson & Johnson made to Band-Aids. Johnson & Johnson reduced the use of raw materials, began using more post-consumer materials for packaging, reduced energy consumption in production, reduced transportation due to changes in packaging and reduced the amount of waste that was being sent to landfills by increasing recycling efforts. However, these improvements aren't just limited to their product that is sold at Walmart Brazil stores. 90 percent of all Band-Aids sold in the world are manufactured in Brazil, so this project has had an enormous impact around the globe.
After the first round of End-to-End, suppliers were satisfied, improvements were being made to even more products across our supply chain, and sales of the improved products increased significantly, which tells us that customers want greener choices. In the second round of product analysis, improvements were made to 13 more products. In fact, so many suppliers wanted to participate in the second round that we had to turn several away because we wanted to focus on making the selected products the best they could be.
The second round of End-to-End was more innovative than the first because we included a greater variety of categories, such as electronics, appliances and paper products, instead of just food and chemicals. We again saw suppliers make vast improvements to their products in the project, as well as to other products across the supply chain.
End-to-End is about making changes in the industry, not about creating exclusive products for Walmart. Suppliers involved in these studies release more information about the production of their products than they normally would, so other suppliers can learn from their processes. The 23 products that have gone through the project aren't perfect, and there is still room for improvement, but they are more sustainable than they've ever been before. However, the most important impact this project has had is in sparking an interest in suppliers, in helping them see that they can save money and energy in producing their products, and we can offer our customers what they want while protecting the environment at the same time.
Read more about Walmart:
Are Walmart's Eco-Efforts Enough? Balancing Sustainability & Social Responsibility at America's Largest Retailer
Walmart's Sustainability Initiatives Explained
Wal-Mart: The Next Steps Toward Sustainability