Walmart Reignites ‘Passion Around Packaging’

Walmart unveils a Sustainable Packaging Playbook for its suppliers with best practices highlighting three directives: source sustainably, optimize design, and support recycling.


Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has released a comprehensive Sustainable Packaging Playbook for its suppliers culled from 10 years of experience working toward a reduction in packaging across its supply chain as part of its zero-waste aspirations. The 20-page document was unveiled on Oct. 25 at a summit held at Walmart’s Bentonville, AR, home office, attended by several hundred suppliers (brand owners), merchants, and NGO partners.

The playbook has been compiled as a guide for suppliers to enhance their packaging sustainability to improve their Sustainability Index score and reduce the cost of goods. Launched in 2009, the Sustainability Index was developed for Walmart by The Sustainability Consortium as a way to establish baselines around sustainability throughout a product’s life cycle and track progress against those goals. In 2012, Walmart committed to buying 70% of the goods sold in its U.S. stores and clubs from suppliers participating in the index by 2017.

In her introduction at the summit, Walmart Senior Vice President of Sustainability Laura Philips shared a comment made to her before the event began by an attendee: “She said to me, ‘I am super-excited about today, because this is the day we are going to reignite the passion around packaging at Walmart.’”

Throughout the summit, team members from both Walmart and Sam’s Club elaborated on the three goals highlighted in the new playbook: optimize design, source sustainably, and support recycling.

Shared Steve Bratspies, Chief Merchandising Officer at Walmart, “We’ve eliminated a lot of unnecessary packaging [since 2006]; it’s really been the focus of all the work we’ve done to date, and it needs to continue to be. But now is the right time to broaden our focus, to include sourcing sustainably and include recycling more in our mindsets as we think about packaging.”

Optimize Design
According to Walmart’s Scott McCall, Senior VP, Home & Seasonal, optimizing design is a game of inches. In his presentation on optimizing design, McCall said, “If you think about our stores, let’s just say a supercenter has 120,000 items in it. If we took one inch out of every item—obviously some would be more, some would be less—we’re talking about 120,000 inches. That’s 10,000 feet, almost two miles of packaging reduced in just one supercenter. Pretty impactful, huh?”

The challenge of optimizing design, however, is reducing the use of packaging while still ensuring sufficient protection of the product. “The most important thing is whether the package protects the product,” said McCall. “We don’t want to have damaged product on the shelves. We don’t want customers bringing product back to the stores.”

Among the successful examples of optimized design shared by McCall was a change in flatware packaging at Sam’s Club where the plastic film was removed from the front of the carton. The change resulted in a savings of $83,000 and the elimination of 150,000 pounds of non-recyclable plastic.

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