Wal-Mart unveils details of sustainable product rating initiative

Bentonville, Ark. Wal-Mart Stores on Thursday detailed its plans to develop a worldwide sustainable product index during a meeting with 1,500 of its suppliers, associates and sustainability leaders at its home office. The index will establish a single source of data for evaluating the sustainability of products.

"We do not see this as a trend that will fade. Higher customer expectations are a permanent part of the future," said Mike Duke, president and CEO, Wal-Mart.

Duke said the eco-rating effort would involve three steps.

First, he said, Wal-Mart will survey its more than 100,000 suppliers around the world. The survey includes 15 questions that will serve as a tool for the chains’ suppliers to evaluate their own sustainability efforts. The questions will focus on four areas: energy and climate; material efficiency; natural resources, and people and community. The company will ask its top-tier U.S. suppliers to complete the survey by Oct. 1. Outside the United States, the company will develop timelines on a country-by-country basis for suppliers to complete the survey.

Next, Duke said, Wal-Mart will help create a consortium of universities to collaborate with governments, suppliers and retailers in developing the sustainability index. The consortium will work with suppliers to assess each product's impact, from the use of raw materials through the potential for recycling.

The company will also partner with one or more leading technology companies to create an open platform that will power the index.

"It is not our goal to create or own this index," said Duke. "We want to spur the development of a common database that will allow the consortium to collect and analyze the knowledge of the global supply chain. We think this shared database will generate opportunities to be more innovative and to improve the sustainability of products and processes."

The final step, Duke said, will be making the information available to customers in the form of index numbers "to tell customers about the sustainability of a product that they're purchasing."

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