Walmart's Newest Sustainability Initiative Focuses on Local Produce, Small Farmers

Walmart photo

Image: Flickr via mjb84

Walmart announced the next steps it will take toward sustainability today, with a series of changes focused on increasing local produce in its stores and improving relationships with small- and medium-size farmers.

The chain has divided the latest goals into three main categories: supporting farmers and their communities, producing more food with fewer resources and less waste, and sustainably-sourcing key agriculture products.On a conference call following the announcement, a Walmart official said, "We have a responsibility as the world's largest grocery store to encourage sustainable agriculture," both in the retail stores and in the supply chain.

Walmart defines the first goal of supporting "farmers and their communities" as, by 2016: selling $1 billion worth of food from one million small and medium farmers; training as many farmers and farm workers in more sustainable farming practices; and increasing the income of small and medium farmers by 10 to 15 percent. That will be achieved in part by increasing the amount direct-sourcing from farmers and cutting out the middle-man.

Domestically, Walmart will also double the amount of locally-sourced produce it sells—to nine percent. "Local" is defined as grown and sold in the same state; no distance is defined.

In terms of reducing waste and resource consumption, Walmart will start asking its "suppliers about the water, energy, fertilizer and pesticide they use per unit of food produced," with the aim of increasing the focus of the Sustainability Index on agriculture and reducing food waste in stores by 10 to 15 percent.

For the third goal, recognizing that "farming practices are having unintended side effects, from deforestation of the world's rainforests to increasing greenhouse gas emissions," Walmart will start sourcing only sustainably-produced palm oil for its private label brands, a change it estimates in U.S. and UK products alone will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 million metric tons by 2016.

Beef from Brazil will now be required to not contribute to deforestation of the Amazon, although how this will be monitored is still unclear.

In terms of palm oil, however, Kory Lundberg, sustainability communications manager for Walmart, said in an email that "sustainable" is defined as coming "from plantations and oil mills that are audited and certified by independent certifiers according to RSPO or equivalent standards, which include preventing deforestation, conserving natural habitats and respecting the indigenous people."

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