Walmart launches virtual sustainability shop

American retailer Walmart has opened up an online tool that allows customers to factor in sustainability credentials when purchasing products from its website.

The Sustainability Leaders Shop is an online shopping portal on that helps customers identify and purchase products from suppliers that are leading in sustainability. The shop allows customers to access the information held in Walmart’s Sustainability Index for the first time.

“We’ve done the heavy lifting to empower our customers to put their money where their heart is,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, senior vice president of sustainability for Walmart. “The Sustainability Leaders shop gives customers the tools to make more informed choices, and it’s a great way for us to do good business.”

The sustainability tool, launched in 2009, is a product of a partnership with The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), which is gathering and analysing information about suppliers’ approach to managing their social and environmental impact on the full lifecycle of products.

Informed purchasing

Up to now, the tool has only been available to Walmart and its suppliers. Allowing customers to access the information is an important step to Walmart reaching one of its three broad sustainability goals set in 2007 – to sell products that sustain people and the environment.

‘Sustainability Leader’ badges are now attached to products on the website. This identifies to customers that the manufacturer of that product is the best in class among other manufacturers for that product category, or rates above 80% in categories with many leading manufacturers. The rankings have been formed from responses to detailed surveys by the TSC. However, the badges only identify the manufacturers overall sustainability credentials and do not refer to individual products.

“The Sustainability Leaders shop on is the first step in helping our customers identify which brands and suppliers are leading the way in sustainability,” added Neil Ashe, president and CEO of Walmart Global eCommerce. “Our customers can trust us to work with suppliers who have an ongoing commitment to both sustainability and affordability.”

Digital era

The move to allow customers to make informed purchasing decisions could be a sign of the future of the retailing market. Already, companies are finding they must adapt to the rise of social media and communicate their sustainability policies online, in what is being hailed as the era of ‘soft sustainability’. As customers become more aware of sustainability issues, companies must communicate to them about issues customers care about and on a level they can understand if they are not to alienate their customer base.

Lucinda Dann

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