CSR Quarterly: Focus on Walmart
As summer winds down into fall, our CSR Quarterly will focus on one company that has been active on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) front the past few months: Walmart. The world’s largest retailer has been busy with its clean energy initiatives, investment in sustainable food choices, land preservation, and work on women’s issues. Almost six years after former CEO Lee Scott promised that Walmart would transform the way it approached business, the company is inching closer towards its goals. Solar energy has been a huge lynchpin of Walmart’s renewable energy programs. The latest? Last week Walmart announced that it is installing solar panels on the roofs of at least 60 of its California stores. The world’s largest groceries seller is also investing and donating in food-related initiatives. Last month Walmart announced that it will donate US$1 million to Growing Power, a south Milwaukee nonprofit that is an urban farming leader. The grant will help Growing Power boost community food programs and boost food security in 20 cities across the United States. As poorer urban areas have become “food deserts” bereft of stores that sell fresh and healthy food, Growing Power will have an increased capacity to train people how to grow food in their local neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Walmart is opening small “Express” stores in cities like Chicago that will increase access to fresh food in underserved neighborhoods. Such a strategy that alarms some anti-Walmart critics, but provides neighborhoods jobs and decent food products while providing the company another revenue stream as sales at its superstores have slowed. If Walmart can somehow tie its urban farming efforts to the opening of stores in areas that previously had no access to healthful food, the company could have a role in revitalizing towns and neighborhoods where commerce have long screeched to a halt. The lawsuits alleging gender discrimination throughout Walmart has helped to keep the company in the news for several months this year. But women’s issues brought the company back in the news again with the announcements that Walmart and Sam Walton’s progeny were donating millions of dollars to organizations that assist women entrepreneurs and support women with mentoring and skills training. Vital Voices, a Washington DC based NGO, is among the organizations that together will receive millions of dollars to support their programs. Overall the company is fronting US$100 million in philanthropy to support women-driven economic programs. So is all this just one big public relations offensive or steps towards a more fundamental shift in strategy? Walmart opponents will not be swayed. Nevertheless, at a time when large institutions, as in government, are failing to provide the changes necessary to build a more sustainable economy while providing economic opportunity, companies like Walmart have a chance to build trust and change the ways in which we do businesses. No matter how you feel about Walmart, one thing is clear: the company is changing in ways that its founder, Sam Walton, could not have imagined. Companies never turn on a dime (especially publicly owned companies accountable to shareholders), so Walmart is becoming a Force of Nature in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Watch for more changes at Walmart, and for more companies to follow Walmart’s moves as they divert towards a more sustainable direction.