Wal-Mart will make a big announcement this week: The company, working with consumer-goods manufacturers and a group of universities, will unveil plans to measure the sustainability of every product it sells. In time, sustainability labels could provide us with information about the environmental and social attributes of consumer goods, much as nutrition labels tell us about the content of the foods we eat.
I’ve been hearing about Wal-Mart’s sustainability index for about a year, but the company has been reluctant to discuss it. (Uncharacteristically so, in my experience.) Wal-Mart’s new CEO, Mike Duke, will announce the index on Thursday, July 16, at the company’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, before invited suppliers, environmentalists and academics. I’ve been able to piece together the story by talking to Wal-Mart insiders, academics who are working with the company and environmentalists. The Big Money, Slate’s business site, has just published the story here.
Here’s how the story begins:
PepsiCo buys lots of renewable energy, while a Coca Cola plant recycles plastic bottles. Should environmentalists drink Pepsi or Coke?
Dell is “carbon neutral.” Hewlett Packard says it designs for the environment. Whose laptops are more “green”?
So many choices, so little reliable guidance: Clorox GreenWorks or Seventh Generation? Local or organic strawberries? Paper or plastic? Who’s to say?
Wal-Mart, that’s who. [click to continue...]