Walmart: Evil Big Business or Partnership Genius
August 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
Wal-Mart, Wally-World, Mal-Mart, the Evil Force driving out small business. . . Whatever you choose to call it, it’s still a shopping center that evokes a mixed bag of emotions including skepticism. Ridiculously low wages, sexual discrimination and disturbing work conditions make it difficult to swallow the idea of an Eco-friendly Walmart. That being said, it appears that this Darth Vader of grocery super-centers is making a concerted effort to clean up their act. Keep reading. Even if you disagree, I’ve included lots of informative links!
On July1st of 2008 Wal-Mart announced its commitment “to source more local fruits and vegetables to keep produce prices down and provide affordable selections that are fresh and healthful”. This translates to cheaper produce for the average shopper, healthier food options and fatter pockets for local farmers. The perfect strategy to bring this plan to fruition was to collaborate with local resources. A silent program known as Heritage Agriculture would soon be created. The program would bring together the Wal-Mart Headquarters (in Arkansas) with the University of Arkansas’ Applied Sustainability Center (the Wal-Mart Foundation happens to be a chief financial supporter). Consequently, the Applied Sustainability Center is part of a national partnership called Agile Agriculture. All partners that make up Agile Agriculture work to produce sustainable benefits for producers, distributors and consumers alike.
- Increased profitability from new marketing opportunities
- Transitioning to large-scale marketing may allow producers to focus on operational efficiency
FOR FOOD DISTRIBUTORS AND RETAILERS
- Meet consumer desire for local and regional products
- Reduce transportation costs and GHG emissions
- Provide fresher products to customers, potentially reducing waste
- Potential to develop local economies and create business opportunities
- Consumers know that buying local is beneficial to local economies
- Forming connections with agricultural supply chains increases confidence
- Increased availability of healthy, fresh, affordable products
Wal-Mart vs. Whole Foods
Although these plans began in 2008, it was not until last month that I noticed the single crate of “locally grown” zucchini in the neighborhood Wal-Mart. Two weeks later there were cucumbers next to the zucchini! It seems that Wal-Mart managed to roll out the red carpet at the perfect time. The strategy appears to be in competing with Whole Foods stores whose focus is natural and organic groceries. As Organic sales and oil prices increased, locally (and often organically) grown produce would decrease the length of distance traveled from plant to plate, therefore decreasing cost to seller (in this case Wal-Mart). Some Wal-Mart stores are even offering locally sourced milk. The Heritage Agriculture program would be capable of benefiting more small and medium American farms than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign.
Read the full article entitled The Great Grocery Smackdown for more detailed Mal-mart info.
Benefits of the Heritage Agriculture Program
- Introduction of hybrid 18-wheelers that use less fuel when transporting goods
- Increased reliance on renewable energy sources
- Reduction of packaging waste among suppliers will cause a “Green Labeling” ripple effect
- New environmental standards for its suppliers in China
- Increased collaboration with environmental advocacy groups
- Recycling of Wal-Mart’s used plastic bottles into dog beds sold at its stores
- Reduce the distance that food must travel to increase freshness and nutritional value
U.S. Wal-Mart stores plan to increase the percentage of locally grown produce to a whopping 9%. Canadian Wal-Mart stores are much more ambitious; expecting to buy 30 percent of its produce locally by the end of 2013, and increase that to 100 percent when local produce is available.
I have difficulty acknowledging that Wal-Mart may be capable of providing some relief to the currently struggling U.S. economy, but I would also like to think that any move toward sustainable living is a positive move in the right direction.
Check out the links page at the Applied Sustainability Center. They are chock full of useful info pertaining to green, sustainable and responsible living.
Now, if only I lived closer to locally grown avocados!