Why Sustainable Agriculture is Important to Walmart

walmart locally grown produce photo

Photo credit: Walmart
This guest post was written by Beth Keck, senior director of sustainability at Walmart.

Walmart customers—whether they live in Chicago or Tokyo—want locally grown fresh produce. Yet, while grocery sales make up more than half our business, we haven't focused enough of our sustainability efforts toward the food we sell. We've set dozens of sustainability goals for the company during the past five years, but only four of our 39 public sustainability goals addressed food...A year ago, we realized we needed to do more, and it was clear sustainable agriculture was right for our business.We began by mapping existing activities and, with retail locations in 15 countries, we discovered we already had some impressive sustainable agriculture initiatives underway. Our Central America business, for example, was leading the company with its direct farm model. We also learned that we needed to better understand the global agricultural trends affecting our business and find a way to involve our total enterprise in solutions.

The result—a few weeks ago we announced a comprehensive global commitment to sustainable agriculture that is now being implemented in every market where we operate.

The journey to this commitment was exciting. We talked to global thought leaders and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in agriculture. We consulted with our food suppliers, many of whom shared the same concerns about future food security. We discussed the challenges with government leaders and leading academic experts. And we had in-depth discussions with our own food business leaders.

We discovered many common concerns. It is imperative that we:

  • link small farmers, especially those in developing countries to retail markets to improve their prosperity;
  • reduce food waste from farm to table so more people have enough food to eat;
  • increase food production in a resource constrained world; and
  • stop agricultural practices deforesting the world's rainforests.

We were galvanized by the fact that food production must increase 70 percent by 2050 to feed our projected world population of 9 billion people.

As you can imagine in the course of these conversations, we received much advice about what Walmart should do. As we evaluated ideas we applied some simple principles:

  • Does it represent leadership?
  • Is it something we can we do as a business?
  • Does it addressing the critical issues?

We also realized a one-size-fits-all approach would never work. Our retail operations around the world are as diverse as are the local farming economies in those countries. But we knew that if we could identify common ground we could make a difference.

The result was a simple three-part framework: a platform with three focus areas providing global direction for the company; global goals supporting the three focus areas that every business unit will work to achieve; and specific market goals that are customized to the realities of a specific geographic region.

The platform and goals we announced on October 14, 2010, are just the beginning of a long-term conversation our company will be having on sustainable agriculture. We're excited to be engaged in this important area and hope our actions will influence other retailers and suppliers to join us on this journey.

Read more about Walmart:
Wal-Mart: The Next Steps Toward Sustainability
Walmart's Sustainability Initiatives Explained
Walmart's Sustainability Index: The Greenest Thing Ever to Happen to Retail?
Read more about local food:
Eating Local Food: The Movement, Locavores and More
10 Reasons to Eat Local Food
National Sustainable Agriculture Standards Debated

Why Sustainable Agriculture is Important to Walmart
Walmart customers—whether they live in Chicago or Tokyo—want locally grown fresh produce. Yet, while grocery sales make up more

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