Wal-Mart's Clean Image

Editorial

However you feel about Wal-Mart’s business tactics, you gotta hand it to the world’s largest retailer: It knows what sells. And what sells better than a “clean” image?

It’s no secret Wal-Mart has suffered from negative press in the past. Its minimum pay wages frequently do not include benefits, forcing some employees to remain at below-poverty levels. Another jibe is it forces smaller businesses to close because they simply can’t compete based on price. Closer to home, a lot of package manufacturing has been lost to offshore suppliers to bring pricing in line with retailer expectations. In all of this, Wal-Mart doesn’t suffer alone, but it still gets most of the blame. Sprucing up Wal-Mart’s image might be understandable and beneficial, if that were a goal. Besides, “clean” works hand in hand with a perfectly admirable goal established during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City in September 2006 at which Wal-Mart first announced its packaging initiative.

More recently at Pack Expo, held October 29–November 2 at Chicago’s McCormick Pl., WM’s Matt Kistler, VP of package and product innovations for Sam’s Club, gave the keynote address with his associate Amy Zettlemoyer, director of packaging. Together they outlined WM’s metrics for a new packaging reduction scorecard it has instituted for consumer product company (CPC) suppliers as well as further downstream for suppliers of CPCs, i.e., package converters (see p18). Ultimately, WM intends to reduce its global supply chain 5% by 2013, helping WM and its suppliers improve packaging and conserve resources. It’s all part of the “Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club Packaging Vision” as the title of Kistler’s keynote address implies.

Just what are the savings? Supposedly when WM cut excess packaging on its private-label line of toys called Kid Connection, it estimated saving $2.4 million/yr in shipping costs, 3,800 trees, and 1 million barrels of oil. Quite a positive environmental statement! For more visit walmartfacts.com/articles/4564.aspx. The page promotes all the company’s positive environmental efforts.

While the WM packaging scorecard is a “measurement tool that allows suppliers to evaluate themselves relative to other suppliers based on specific metrics,” according to Kistler, the scorecard also creates a list of suppliers (both CPCs and converters) that have conformed to WM’s concept of eco-friendly, and are therefore “Wal-Mart approved” suppliers—all of which WM is defining. The analogy that fits here is somewhat like a Black List in reverse. If your company’s name isn’t on the list, it’s a bad thing.

On convertingblog.com, CMM’s editorial/conference director Keith Hevenor questioned whether Wal-Mart’s package downsizing efforts were good for the package printing and converting industry in the long run. My feeling is this: I don’t have a problem with Wal-Mart making/saving money, and I applaud its attempt to do something good for the environment. In fact, if any environmental initiatives are going to be successful, they must make market and dollar sense. Hopefully this will inspire other environmental innovations.

But somehow I just don’t like the concept of one company dictating rules all through the supply chain. So I tend to agree with blogger A. Lawson who responded to Hevenor’s comment: “…I am all for reducing resources to perform a function, but let’s not assume Wal-Mart will not profit from their program and their suppliers realize less than expected. Your own efficiencies should impact your profit only.”

That “clean” image isn’t quite squeaky clean from my perspective. What’s yours?



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