Mission Zero Ripple Effect: Walmart

Leading the Way as a Purpose-Driven Company

This year, Interface announced success on Mission Zero®, an awe-inspiring journey we set out on in 1994. We’ve worked tirelessly for 25 years as a company to reduce our environmental footprint, transforming our business to have no negative impact on the planet by 2020. At first, people thought our vision was impossible – unprofitable and irrational, even. But once we began to turn our founder Ray Anderson’s vision into a business plan and started making progress, other organisations wanted to learn from us.

Turns out, our goal to have zero impact on the environment has had a big impact on other companies and organisations. Out of the vision for zero impact, has come a ripple effect of our efforts inspiring others to follow suit. While one company alone can’t reverse global warming, one company doing the right thing can inspire another company to do the same, and another, and another, and so on. Until there’s a movement of companies and organisations around the world realising their own abilities to make a change for good.

One such convert to sustainability was former Walmart CEO Lee Scott, whose epiphany on global warming was spurred by the birth of his granddaughter. But, Scott knew there were shorter-term business benefits to sustainability, as well and was quoted by TIME magazine as saying, “We are not being altruistic … this is a business philosophy, not a social philosophy. At some point, businesses will be held accountable for the actions they take.”

Windmills providing renewable energy outside of a Sam's Club store,

Windmills providing renewable energy outside of a Walmart store.

Walmart turned to Interface for leadership and direction to make quick work toward a sustainable business strategy. Ray first presented Interface’s progress to a small group of Walmart executives in 2004. After this initial meeting, the company’s senior leadership team researched and planned potential strategies for a year, participating in a cultural immersion program at Interface’s LaGrange, Ga. facilities.

Doug McMillon, Walmart’s current CEO, was one of the leaders invited to Interface in 2004. During their visit, the group toured a local landfill, where Interface is using the methane gas emitted to power its LaGrange facilities. While there, McMillon noticed some discarded Walmart boxes in the landfill.

The juxtaposition really struck me. I’ve thought about that visit many times as Walmart has made advances to become a more sustainable company,” said McMillon.

In 2005, Scott issued an internal challenge to Walmart employees and business partners with three simple, straightforward environmental goals:

  1. To be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy
  2. To create zero waste
  3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment

And the next year, he extended this vision to suppliers at the company’s annual supplier summit.

Since then, the company has reduced its waste-to-landfill by 78 percent and implemented an ambitious supplier incentive initiative with the goal of avoiding one billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030. This year, sustainability influencers in North America ranked Walmart right behind Interface for their leadership in integrating sustainability into their business strategy. The retail giant has also been recognised as one of the most influential retailers driving suppliers’ investments in product sustainability.

Solar panels outside of a Walmart store

Solar panels outside of a Walmart store.

We’ve set ambitious goals to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain people and the environment,” said McMillon. “Visiting Interface and seeing the creativity they applied to make the company more sustainable showed us that we could do the same. These are complicated issues, and there are few easy solutions. No one company, no matter how big, can solve them. But by embracing responsibility and partnering with others, we can make a significant difference in the world.

This chain of ripples, which started with Interface, created a wave. And we’re proud to say that our work has extended far beyond Mission Zero. We are firm believers in the power of one voice, one company, to start a movement, and our influence on Walmart is proof.

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