De-Demonizing Wal-Mart


Last month I addressed Wal-Mart’s “clean” image and invited readers to share their opinions on the subject. This column includes one from a PFFC subscriber to whom I extend my thanks and appreciation for taking the time to write.

But first a review of last month’s column: I applauded Wal-Mart’s efforts to improve packaging and conserve resources as part of “Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club Packaging Vision,” the working title of a Pack Expo keynote address delivered by Matt Kistler, VP of package and product innovations for Sam’s Club, and Amy Zettlemoyer, director of packaging. WM estimated saving $2.4 million/yr in shipping costs alone for its line of Kid Connection toys. It also saved 3,800 trees and 1 million barrels of oil.

I said if any environmental initiatives are to be successful, they must make market and dollar sense. So if WM makes or saves money with its initiatives, I don’t have a problem with it. Making/saving money is among the best ways to inspire other environmental innovations.

What I did have a problem with was WM’s scorecard concept that creates a list of suppliers (both consumer product companies and converters) that have qualified as eco-friendly, according to WM’s definitions. My analogy of the scorecard was something like a Black List in reverse: It was bad if your company wasn’t on it. I don’t like one company dictating the rules all through the supply chain.

Here’s another outlook from Mike Parkinson, ProPack Services: I don’t think we should demonize Wal-Mart for making the decision to turn green. It should be celebrated and encouraged.

Wal-Mart’s management has one primary responsibility, and that is to make money for their shareholders. And through their analysis, they have found that this is a path that will help them to do that. So Wal-Mart’s management is doing its job. But there is lots of whining about it. Now I’m not a big Wal-Mart fan, but in this case, I think they are right on the mark. They should promote this direction and we should work with them to support it. Sitting on the sidelines and throwing rocks does not make the situation improve. We should engage Wal-Mart to make standards and develop initiatives and opportunities, instead of saying that while it’s good, who the hell is Wal-Mart to dictate what the direction should be. Well, who else is doing it? Who else has the mass and influence to make such a change? The answer is…nobody.

Without Wal-Mart, this topic would not be getting nearly the attention that it is. Without Wal-Mart, there wouldn’t be the critical mass required to make it economical. Without Wal-Mart, we’d not be moving forward. Wal-Mart is the biggest player out there by far, and it has the clout and the means to make such a change. So let’s get on the bandwagon and help them. And by doing so, we will be creating new opportunities to develop new business and new packaging products to meet new needs. In my opinion, that’s what a nimble, effective company should be focused on in order to grow and flourish.

Over the years, there have been countless attempts to improve the packaging situation, from source reduction to innovative technologies and products. Often, these projects die on the vine because there is not the volume and unit cost advantage available because they are in a niche, for which the consumer product company and the customer are not willing to pay. Now, with Wal-Mart behind such initiatives, perhaps the critical volumes will be available that can make this finally come true. So we should stop the whining. We should embrace the concept. And we should accept that, within our economic system, this type of thing is only going to happen if there is money to be made. What’s so wrong with that? I guess the real problem is that it’s Wal-Mart…and we all just love bashing them. Regardless of the reason!

Anybody else want to take a shot?

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