By dint of its sheer size, pretty much everything Wal-Mart does is important. So the long-anticipated launch of the Wal-Mart Sustainability Index — a company-led project to evaluate all of the suppliers whose products appear on Wal-Mart’s shelves — has met with a huge amount of scrutiny.
The first version of the index is a simple 15-question scorecard (available here) broken into four sections: Energy and Climate, Material Efficiency, Natural Resources, and People and Community. For example, here are the questions devoted to climate change:
> 1. Have you measured your corporate greenhouse gas emissions?
> 2. Have you opted to report your greenhouse gas emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)?
> 3. What are your total greenhouse gas emissions reported in your most recently completed report?
> 4. Have you set publicly available greenhouse gas reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets?
Pretty basic stuff, but having this information compiled in a single public database would be useful first step in evaluating the environmental impact of a huge range of products. However, product-level information is still many years off. For the time being, the scorecard focuses only on companies. Joel Makower comments:
> Do such shortcomings render the Walmart Sustainability Index as greenwash? No. This is a solid first effort. It’s important to note that over the past year, Walmart engaged some 20 universities, a handful of environmental activist groups, associations like Business for Social Responsibility, many of its key suppliers, and a small army of consultants. Patagonia’s iconoclastic founder, Yvon Chounaird, has played a role. It’s gone through a great deal of thinking and more than a few iterations. This was not some slap-dash effort.
Developing the Sustainability Index will be an iterative process, so the most important question regarding its future impact is really just how committed Wal-Mart is to developing, refining, and publicizing the information they gather. At the moment, they seem quite serious about expanding their ruthless pursuit of supplier efficiency to encompass greener goals.