Wal-Mart Stores' bid to be greener got more bite Thursday, with the company saying it wants to create environmental ratings for everything it sells.
Because Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest retailer, those ratings could transform how most products are made. Wal-Mart is aiming for a comprehensive rating so that all important factors are considered, including the quantity of greenhouse gases and pollution produced, and the amount of water consumed.
It will take a few years before consumers see the "sustainability index" labels on products. But Wal-Mart has begun work on the five-year plan, which was announced at a meeting of employees and suppliers at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
"We may never be cool, but we care, and we can make a difference," said John Fleming, Wal-Mart’s chief merchandising officer.
Wal-Mart — which started its green campaign more than three years ago with initiatives to reduce waste, cut energy consumption and use renewable energy — said the index would be a "game changer" in considering the environmental consequences of the products it sells.
The move also could pay off for Wal-Mart’s business in several ways, from helping suppliers cut their costs to attracting younger shoppers who tend to care more about environmental concerns. And by setting its own standard, the company could be trying to fend off any government environmental labeling regulations, which Britain and Japan already have instituted.
Wal-Mart has the size and clout to wring big price concessions out of suppliers, so it may well be able to do the same for environmental impact.
Mike Duke, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart, said the index would create a retail standard for the 21st century.
Wal-Mart also invited other retailers to join the effort. If there’s a uniform standard among retailers, suppliers are that much more likely to try to meet it — and Wal-Mart can take credit for developing the standard. And if other chains don’t go along, Wal-Mart and those that do will be able to use the sustainability ratings on their products as a marketing edge.
"Nobody else could pull this off," said Michelle Harvey at the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups that will help create the index.
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