Walmart's Green Goals Perfectly Encapsulate The Company's Ruthless Efficiency

It turns out being sustainable can also be profitable.
Walmart has joined a group of companies committed to reducing waste.
Walmart has joined a group of companies committed to reducing waste.
Jim Young / Reuters

Walmart is famous for its ruthless commitment to efficiency. Often that makes people think of the low wages it pays most of its workers (and the subsequent low prices), but cutting costs is not just about labor. For Walmart, it's also a reason to go green.

Walmart last week joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 platform, a group of companies committed to reducing waste in their production process. The foundation's aim is to create a "circular economy," where all energy is renewed and products are created in such a way that every part is reusable somehow.

Walmart has already started to make its internal procedures more circular. For example, it has a system for the big refrigerators it uses in its stores. If one breaks and can't be used, the whole machine doesn't get thrown away. Walmart has a team that inspects the equipment for any parts that are salvageable. Those parts get sent to a central warehouse and catalogued. Then, when another refrigerator part breaks in a different store somewhere else in the country, recycled parts from the warehouse can be used to fix it. The company ends up replacing far fewer refrigerators than it would if it didn't salvage parts.

“Waste represents inefficiency,” according to Fred Bedore, a senior director on Walmart’s sustainability team. “We want to root out the inefficiencies. We want to be operating [Walmart] at the lowest possible cost.”

For Walmart, that means committing to eliminate waste in the company’s energy use, operations and the products it sources. While Walmart might not be the first company that comes to mind when you think of sustainability, it’s actually a strategy that fits rather naturally with its business model.

That means both finding ways to make its own business more circular -- things like the refrigerator repair system, and incorporating more renewable energy into its business -- and working with suppliers and vendors to make their businesses more circular as well.

"We want to make sure that we are using resources effectively, and not creating more waste than is necessary," Bedore told the Huffington Post.

And, of course, less waste means even lower prices.