16 March 2010 | Helen Gilbert
A sustainable procurement push by three of the world’s best-known retailers is likely to spark a wave of similar moves, experts have said.
US firms Wal-Mart and The Home Depot and UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) have unveiled plans to cut supply chain emissions by working more closely with suppliers.
Wal-Mart aims to cut 20 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases from its global supply chain by 2015 – equivalent to taking 3.8 million cars off the road a year.
The company will focus on product categories with the highest level of associated carbon emissions and press its 100,000 suppliers to change the way they source, manufacture, package and transport goods.
M&S is to build on its eco blueprint, Plan A, by sourcing more sustainable materials for clothes and food, and asking vendors in Bangladesh and India to cut energy use by 20 per cent.
Its updated plans also include funding training and education for half a million of its supply chain workers and requiring construction vendors to halve their waste.
Home improvement chain The Home Depot pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its domestic supply chain by 20 per cent over the next five years. This will be achieved by moving to a centralised distribution network and overhauling routing and scheduling, the firm said.
Environmental consultant Blake Lee-Harwood said the plans “set a benchmark for other companies” and represent a major step forward.
“It’s a novelty because this is about the supply chain and Wal-Mart is a global giant. [The retailer’s] supply chains are massive and it’s globally significant.”
The pledges represent the beginning of a trend, added Keith Littlejohn, account manager at not‑for-profit organisation the Carbon Disclosure Project.
He said: “There has been a change in business as usual and companies are realising that there will be winners and losers from a low-carbon economy. Retailers will increasingly collaborate with their suppliers creating both trust and reward between them.”
Philip Emsley, director and chief operating officer of carbon management consultancy Green 2020, said retailers are keen to green their supply chains, but funding and a lack of skills often stand in the way.
“Companies such as M&S and Wal-Mart are breaking that deadlock. A low-carbon supply chain is a low-cost supply chain.”