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Oil palm workers at a smallholder oil palm plantation in Tapanuli Selatan, North Sumatra.

Conservation International and Walmart

Bringing more sustainable products to consumers

© CI/Tory Read

 

What would happen if the world’s largest retailer made sustainability a business imperative?

That’s the question Conservation International posed to Walmart in 2004, kicking off our work together and leading to the development of Walmart’s three aspirational sustainability goals:

  • to be supplied by 100% renewable energy;
  • to create zero waste;
  • and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment.

It also launched a decade-long partnership between Walmart and Conservation International that has included efforts to bring more sustainable products to consumers. This includes reducing deforestation associated with its global palm oil footprint and implementing innovative sourcing strategies for jewelry and seafood. Walmart is a member of Conservation International’s Business & Sustainability Council, a forum that convenes sustainability leaders to advance environmental and social solutions.

 

Oil palm plantations in northeastern Borneo, state of Sabah, Malaysia.
© Vaara

Our plan

Conservation International is helping Walmart to source more products sustainably and support supply chains that are more resilient to climate change and social and environmental impacts. In 2015, we analyzed Walmart’s sustainable sourcing commitments for palm oil, beef and soy — three commodities that are impacting forests in Brazil and Indonesia. The analysis helped Walmart to understand the impacts its sourcing policies have on the industry, in their supply chain and at origin.

Conservation International and Walmart are now working to examine ways to drive sustainability in Walmart’s supply chain, including addressing deforestation, improving producer livelihoods, and upholding the rights of communities through better sourcing and innovative collaborations that inspire transformation of the entire palm oil, beef and soy sectors.

 

© Luciano Candisani/iLCP

Opportunity for impact

Walmart’s 11,000 stores in 27 countries are supplied by a global pool of more than 100,000 businesses.

 

Areas of work

Walmart’s global scale and influence has the capacity to impact beyond its own supply chain in adopting more sustainable sourcing practices to suppliers, competitors and entire sectors. Walmart has aggressively implemented voluntary sustainable sourcing initiatives critical to improving the resilience of supply chains, just one way of addressing the complex issue of agriculture-driven deforestation. However, the complexity of agriculture-driven deforestation requires collaboration across sectors, support from policymakers, and solutions at the landscape level to alter our current models/systems of production. Walmart can play a unique role, combining purchasing power and industry influence to improve demand for sustainably sourced products, while collaborating and investing at a landscape level to promote improved production systems and market incentives.​

 

Palm oil fruit bunches harvested by a day laborer in Sumatra, Indonesia
© David Gilbert

Transitioning Walmart products to 100% sustainable palm oil

Palm oil is found in about half of all consumer products. In 2010, Walmart committed to sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil for all its private-brand products by 2015. Since then, Conservation International has worked with Walmart to help them implement this commitment, by knowing which products contain the ingredient and producing materials to help educate Walmart’s thousands of suppliers on how to source sustainable palm oil. Through this work, we witnessed the scope of Walmart’s influence over its supply chain, with 85% of the company’s private-label palm oil suppliers noting Walmart influenced them to implement more sustainable sourcing practices. In 2014, 54% of Walmart’s palm oil was certified sustainable through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and at the end of 2015, Walmart achieved 100% certified sustainable palm oil in all global private-brand products.

The processing boss holds a small ball of gold dust.
© Benjamin Drummond

Tracing jewelry from its source

In 2008, Conservation International partnered with Walmart to create the company’s first completely traceable, environmentally responsible jewelry line — Love, Earth®. Walmart worked with us to develop environmental and social practices for sourcing the jewelry line and to help identify producers who met those strict criteria. The project also includes an online tracking system that for the first time enables customers to trace each stop their purchase all the way from the mine to their local Walmart.

A young Ethiopian boy holds his fresh catch on the shores of Lake Langano, Ethiopia.
© Michael Hanson/Aurora Photos

Sustaining fisheries and a healthy ocean

Conservation International supported Walmart in its 2006 commitment to hold its wild-caught fresh and frozen fish suppliers to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards. Together Conservation International and Walmart worked with Walmart’s suppliers, as well as other partner groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, to support more sustainable fisheries. We also worked with Walmart to develop a program to purchase farmed shrimp certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), providing input on the environmental aspects of GAA standards to strengthen the protection of coastal wetlands. Both initiatives stress the importance of fisheries and resource management as part of a larger strategy that ensures healthy and productive marine ecosystems.

Field work in the Guiana Shield
© Adriano Gambarini

Tropical forestry management and sustainable use of Amazon resources

In 2009, Walmart’s Brazilian operations partnered with Conservation International to fund a biodiversity conservation project in Brazil’s Amapá National Forest. The project protected 414,000 hectares (over 1 million acres) and provided employment, education and business opportunities to thousands of local people. The project created a sustainable means of income for communities through wild-harvested crops like acai berries, which are purchased by Walmart.