GL: When it comes to stocking your shelves, to what extent does Walmart work with local farmers to source fresh produce?
KL: Between 2010 and 2015, we wanted to double the amount of locally grown produce sold in our stores. In just the first year, we increased the sale of locally grown produce by 97 percent. We almost met the goal in the first year.
Overall, grocery is more than half of our business. Since 2010, our sustainable agriculture platform has focused on three main pillars: supporting farmers, producing more food with fewer resources, and sustainably sourcing key agriculture products.
One of my favorite locally grown stories is around jalapeño peppers. Four or five years ago, almost all of our peppers came from Florida, California, and Mexico, but by working with local farmers to see if they would be interested in growing a new crop with a commitment from Walmart to purchase, we now source jalapeño peppers from approximately 30 statesincluding some you wouldn't think of, like Minnesota, New York, and Idaho. This helps farmers diversify crops and grow a new, in-demand crop; it makes this crop available to other local retailers and farmers' markets; and it helps Walmart reduce costs, which we can pass on to our customers in the form of low prices. We've also expanded the program to include things like Anaheim and poblano peppers.
GL: Does Walmart sell organic produce?
KL:Our stores carry a number of organic products, including a variety of produce based on what our customers are looking for. What we have found is that by doing things like using our size and scale, filling trucks to capacity, and using our logistical efficiencies, we can often provide customers organic produce at prices on par with conventional produce.
GL: What about other parts of the worldhow does your sustainability initiative translate overseas?
KL: We are in 27 countries now. For us, sustainability is a focus everywhere. ASDA, our operation in the United Kingdom, has eliminated all food waste going to landfills. In China, they reduced plastic bag waste by 86 percent in 2011, compared with 2007. Walmart Canada has its first in-store solar installation.
Walmart in Central America has a very successful, long-standing Direct Farm program [sourcing from small- and medium-size farmers]; we are taking Central America's best practices and applying them in other countries where we operate, like India, Canada, and Japan. In Brazil, our End-to-End project is generating a good amount of buzz. It analyzes the entire life cycle of consumer products, from sourcing raw materials to disposal of waste, with the aim of reducing packaging, incorporating recycled materials, and limiting water and fuel consumption.
GL: Do you hope to inspire other retailers to conduct business more sustainably?
KL: We already have. That was one of our goals that Lee Scott set from the beginning. If you have more companies using things like LED lights, that will bring down the costs for everyone. Because of our size, we hope to motivate all types of companies. We have white roofs on our buildings, which deflect a large percentage of the sun's heatthat brings down energy costs. We have also implemented skylights in most of our stores, and we've noticed that other companies have adopted this concept as well.
There are a lot of companies doing innovative things. For example, check out The Sustainability Consortium. Walmart is part of it, and so are other companies that want to make a change. Some of the companies are Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Disney, and Marsit's a pretty diverse group.
GL: How do consumers react to your sustainability program?
KL: They are supportive. They like the idea, and when it comes to organic or local/sustainable products, they don't want to have to pay more for them. And Walmart doesn't believe they should have to spend more. Since Walmart reduces the company's expenses through the sustainability program, we can reduce the price of those items that traditionally cost more.
GL: What tips do you have for consumers who want to increase sustainability at home?