Wal-Mart sets environmental plan as people seek green items

Wal-Mart is laying out its environmental map for the next several years as it tries to satisfy customers who want green products at affordable prices. 

The world's largest retailer says it will seek to reduce emissions in its own operations by 18% by 2025, and work toward adding no waste to landfills in key markets such as Canada and the United States. It also plans to be powered by 50% clean and renewable energy sources. 

Wal-Mart's goals, being announced Friday by CEO Doug McMillon, follow a plan set in 2005 as the company sought to deflect criticism of its practices and burnish its image. Wal-Mart has extended its effort since then into its supply chain, which, because of its size — more than 10,000 stores globally — gives it outsized influence on the overall industry. 

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is under pressure from consumers, especially millennials, who want environmentally friendly items. Wal-Mart is looking at technology that will let shoppers scan food to learn its origins and other information, beyond just tagging products with “green labels.” 

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Kathleen McLaughlin, a Wal-Mart senior vice president, said she couldn't estimate how much the programs will save or cost. While they have an impact on society, they also make good business sense overall, she said. 

Some areas of focus include: 

Sustainability

The company will use a combination of energy-efficiency measures and expand its use of clean and renewable sources to reduce emissions in its operations. Wal-Mart says it will be the first retailer to have an emissions-reduction plan approved by the Science Based Targets initiative in partnership with the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015. The Science Based Targets initiative is a partnership with World Wildlife Fund, World Resources Institute and others. Wal-Mart also will work with suppliers to scale back emissions by one gigaton by 2030, which it says is equivalent to taking 211 million cars from the road a year. 

Wal-Mart says it hopes to be adding zero waste to landfills in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States by 2025. It plans to refine how it buys food so less of it goes unsold, and any that does is converted to pet food or fertilizers or diverted to charities. 

Products

The company wants its private-brand packaging to be 100% recyclable. It also plans to double sales of locally grown produce by 2025. It's also working with suppliers and its private-label products to eliminate certified synthetic colors and artificial flavors and get rid of other food additives where possible. 

Workers

Wal-Mart plans to work with industry groups and others to ensure that workers globally in sectors like seafood, produce, clothing and electronics are not forced to pay fees to land jobs and are not taken advantage of by recruiting agents. It plans to train suppliers to monitor whether workers are being exploited. 

Wal-Mart was among the companies to which an Associated Press probe last year traced seafood that came through a fishing industry that used slave labor. The seafood also was linked to supermarkets and pet suppliers such as Kroger, Whole Foods and Petco. 

Diane Regas, executive director at the Environmental Defense Fund, says Wal-Mart deserves credit for more than meeting its sustainability commitment. “I think that surprises people,” Regas said, but added, “There is a huge amount more to be done.” 

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