Walmart’s Impact on Global Sustainability

Earlier this week, CI CEO Peter Seligmann spoke at Walmart’s 2014 Global Sustainability Milestones Meeting. CI has been partnering with Walmart for 10 years; a version of this post was originally published on Walmart’s The Green Room.

farmer harvests eggplants, Tanzania

Man harvests eggplant near Tanzania’s Udzungwa National Park. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Conservation International Vice Chair Harrison Ford says it best: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”

Think about it. Could any of us survive without what nature provides us — fresh water, food, lifesaving medicines, fertile soil and natural pollinators? The answer is no.

Today, the majority of people on Earth live in cities, seemingly far removed from the sources of our food, water, energy and material goods. Yet it is all interconnected: a massive storm in Asia or a drought in Africa can threaten the supply chains that Walmart customers depend upon.

Walmart understands this, and 10 years ago the company led the way by embracing the concept of sustainability and developing goals around renewable energy, zero waste and supply chains. As the world’s largest retailer, when Walmart takes an action it can have a larger impact than many nations.

Walmart has taken sustainability from an afterthought in the corporate board room to an integral part of its business plan. Other companies see this and are realizing that incorporating sustainability into their own plans is the smart way to do business.

I like to say that it is in the enlightened self-interest of nations, businesses, communities — all of us — to protect nature. Over the next four decades, as the world’s population grows from 7 billion to over 9 billion, the demand for food, water and energy will double. Our already stressed planet will become more so as an increasing amount of nature’s resources are depleted. At the rate we are going, we will need two Earths to provide for us.

Who would have guessed 10 years ago that Walmart would become a global leader in sustainability? What an amazing evolution! More businesses need to understand that there is a direct connection between nature, human well-being and our economic and national security.

Let me be clear: The challenge is daunting. Walmart has the opportunity, once again, to lead the way. Innovation must be at the heart of solving these problems and Walmart has the history of success, as well as the relationships with partners across the planet, to push the search for innovative solutions to ensure sustainable supply chains.

I am optimistic about the future and the growing understanding that societies require, at their very foundation, a vibrant and healthy natural world. Focusing on ecosystem health and vitality is both good for business and truly in the enlightened self-interest of us all.

Peter Seligmann is chairman and CEO of Conservation International. Learn more about CI’s work with Walmart.

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