Products that air their (hopefully less) dirty laundry
I’m guessing everyone who stumbles onto this post is already familiar with Wal-Mart‘s move to encourage suppliers to transparently disclose detailed life cycle information on their products. Basically, Wal-Mart’s big idea is to develop a rating system that scores products based on how environmentally and socially sustainable they are over the course of their life….sort of like a sustainability nutrition label (as the NYT points out).
I’m impressed. With the announcement of its sustainability index, Wal-Mart is flexing its marketplace power to become a transformational sustainability leader. The labeling/scoring won’t happen over night, but in a decade or so, I’m guessing the shelves at Wal-Mart will look quite a bit different. By then, we might not hear as much about the nefarious form of Greenwashing known as the “hidden trade-off” where companies make claims suggesting that their product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes, without paying attention to other important environmental issues. With fully transparent, life-cycle focused labeling on products it will be harder for companies to hide piles of dirty laundry behind cleaner marketing claims.
So what are some of the critics saying about the new move? I had a brief look over at Wal-Mart watch–a blog/website devoted to pushing Wal-Mart to become a better employer, neighbor, and corporate citizen. Strangely, I didn’t see a post on this topic (did I miss it?). Side related Note: Marc Gunther, one of my favorite sustainability minded bloggers wrote on ClimateBiz: Much as I’m an admirer of Wal-Mart’s ambitious sustainability goals, and its efforts to achieve them, there’s a glaring problem with the company‘s “progress” to date…when it comes to climate change-the defining environmental issue of of our era — Wal-Mart is moving in the wrong direction because of the fact that the company is adding more stores and selling more stuff.
So, interestingly, while Wal-Mart is doing so much admirable stuff to change the retail sector, it finds it hard to manage its own carbon footprint.
In any case, it will be fascinating to watch the development of Wal-Mart’s ambitious move. I wonder how the future labels will look…and how will consumers respond? How much will “every day” consumers really care? I hope somewhere along the way there will also be some basic consumer education within the program. Better education of everyday shoppers will help people fully understand product lifecycle evaluation.
Smart companies will get out in front of this new move by Wal-Mart and help drive the future. It is really great to see this BIG move toward addressing sustainable consumption–there is a big opportunity here (see the right side of the below graph from the global compact network in Germany).
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- Wal-Mart to rate environmental impact (money.cnn.com)
- Wal-Mart’s Transparency Exposes the De-Value Chain (blogs.harvardbusiness.org)
- Wal-Mart will keep customers aware of how “green” their products are (ceoworld.biz)
- How the Wal-Mart Eco-Ratings Will Save Money (blogs.harvardbusiness.org)
- Wal-Mart’s global sustainability index change the way consumer goods are produced and marketed (ceoworld.biz)
- Wal-Mart to label products with eco ratings (news.cnet.com)
- Wal-Mart to Rate Products’ Impact on Environment (nytimes.com)
- Wal-Mart to create eco-ratings for all goods (msnbc.msn.com)