Say what you will about Wal-Mart’s carbon-intensive practice of shipping products from overseas, the big box retailer is at least trying to up its sustainability quotient. According to the Big Money’s Marc Gunther, Wal-Mart is set to unveil a comprehensive index on Thursday that will measure the sustainability of every product it sells. The plan has been described by one insider as “audacious beyond words”.
Wal-Mart’s sustainability index, which will appear on product labels in the next year or two, comes as the result of a newly-formed sustainability consortium made up of academic institutions including the University of Arkansas and the University of Arizona, as well as consumer goods companies like Unilever, Tyson, and General Mills. In a sign that the company wants to make its index an industry-wide standard, Wal-Mart has also invited competing companies–Costco, Target, and Kroger–to join.
Defining sustainability and measuring it accurately will be the chief task of the consortium, which plans to use a Life Cycle Assessment to measure the cradle-to-cradle impact of a product from manufacture through disposal. Wal-Mart will ask its 60,000 suppliers for help, but ensuring that each product on store shelves is sized up remains a monumental task. Eventually, Wal-Mart hopes to hand off the sustainability index to a non-profit group.
If the sustainability consortium pulls through, Wal-Mart could lead the charge in pressuring major manufacturers to green their production processes. As Gunther points out, Wal-Mart practically forced manufacturers to remove bisphenol A from baby bottles by pulling the toxic products from store shelves. Public shaming through a sustainability index might not be enough to make manufacturers change their ways, but if Wal-Mart ceases to stock the most unsustainable products, it could become an unlikely environmental hero.
[Via Big Money]