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January 23, 2008 | Andrew Winston | Jump to: Comments (0) | Post A Comment

Picks and Shovels in the Green Wal-Mart Era

[Originally posted on my site here on October 15, 2007]

Last week Wal-Mart had a big meeting near its headquarters which it called a Sustainability Summit. Lee Scott, the CEO, invited the CEOs of the giant’s biggest suppliers. And they came. I was part of the “other” group invited – green people from all over. The centerpiece of the day was a two hour presentation/meeting led by Lee talking about how sustainability fit into the new Wal-Mart slogan, “Save Money. Live Better.” I had half expected a big announcement, but the reality was something more interesting. (There were a couple of interesting, fairly vague targets: Wal-Mart wants 20% of the items on the shelf to be “influenced by Live Better innovations” and Sam’s Club wants 100% of its products to be touched by the “lens of sustainability”…but these were not the centerpiece of the day by any means).

First, Scott’s opening comments confirmed everything I’ve been thinking/hoping. He answered the question “Is this a fad?” definitively. He pointed out that Wal-Mart is saving money, driving profitability, involving employees, and improving reputation “more than we dreamed.” As he said, sustainability will mean better products helping customers create a better life. The message was “we’re committed.” It’s not a fad, Scott said, and not a marketing ploy, but a “remarkable business opportunity.” (For a longer excerpt of Scott’s comments and another perspective, see Joel Makower’s take on the day here.)

So it was almost a regular, everyday operational meeting (with the unusual aspect being all CEOs in a room of course). Wal-Mart was just asking suppliers to innovate and provide products to help it go green – the company wants 100 products like the CFL light bulbs it has sold 100 million of. No big fancy targets, just hard work. It struck me that this movement is really happening now.

Lest this blog turn into an all Wal-Mart discussion (which is almost hard to avoid given how much of a driving force they are right now), let me comment on another aspect of the meeting that was really fascinating to me. The day also included a medium-sized trade show of sorts – booths set up by all the organizations that Wal-Mart thought could help its suppliers go green. It was a mix of mainly NGOs and consulting firms for the most part (full list here). The latter group is exploding, including consulting arms from Interface and Wal-Mart itself. This may be a bit insular, but this certainly was interesting to me since I do consulting in this field, often with partner DOMANI.

The mad dash of companies trying to come to the aid of the Fortune 1000 in their new green quest reminds me of any gold rush throughout history. The consultants are now competing to offer picks and shovels for this new green age. And no matter how many there are, who knows if it will be enough to satisfy the growing demand.


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