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Saving the planet pays, for Walmart merchants

All Walmart and Sam’s Club merchants can expect to have a portion of their compensation tied to the achievement of live better sustainability goals in 2013 as part of what president and CEO Mike Duke called an unwavering commitment to sustainability.

Duke’s reference to the new performance metric came at the end of a sustainability milestone meeting that took place Thursday. While he didn’t offer specifics on the weighting that would be assigned to sustainability measures when evaluating the performance of merchants, he did use the word "holistic" a lot when singling out several merchants who are managing their businesses with a key eye on sustainability implications of their decision-making.

"In the long term, the customers are going to expect that the products that we sell are designed, built and merchandised by a holistic supply chain," Duke said. "So this focus on product and the whole footprint of every product we sell is really, really critical area."

An important tool in that process is a Live Better Scorecard that has been in development since 2009 and is designed to allow merchants, and eventually consumers, to view the sustainability attributes of various products to make more informed choices.

The scorecard is fundamental to Walmart’s goal of becoming more transparent around the supply chain implications of the products it sells to it can make increased progress on reducing harmful environmental impacts and shrink its footprint. The Live Better Scorecard currently applies to 100 categories and involves 70 merchants with plans for the addition of 100 more categories by year end and hundreds more next year, according to Andrea Thomas, SVP of sustainability.

"The world, every single resident of this planet, would like to live a better life," Duke said. "Isn’t it great to work for a place that has a purpose of wanting to help our customers all over the world live a better life. That is what this whole initiative is about."

Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, thinks so. He was on hand at the meeting to offer some perspective on working with large corporations to effect change and explain how the attitudes of non-governmental entities have evolved.

"NGO’s like ourselves started off by saving animals like tigers, elephants, polar bears and pandas, but we realized that local actions will only get you so far when there are these big global forces are affecting animals in the places where they live," Roberts said. "If you don’t engage business and business doesn’t take a strong leadership role we are not going to succeed in the long term."

The other issue driving increase cooperation between businesses and NGOs is that the limits of government have been revealed.

"We see that more and more so in the U.S. and increasingly we see governments think in two, four and six year cycles," Roberts said. "And leading businesses are thinking in 50 year cycles and see climate change and resource scarcity as fundamental things affecting their business."

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