As the frontline for sustainability messaging to consumers, retailers will continue to move the bar for expectations for other members of the supply chain.
As it does with many initiatives, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., is likely to set the pace for the industry when it comes to sustainability and the supply chain, observers say.
The firm’s Sustainability Index will grade suppliers based on their emissions, energy use, packaging and other factors.
In an effort to be inclusive, the chain has tried to involve other major players such as Kroger and Safeway in the development of the index.
If successful, the end result may spawn a standard that applies to products sold in retail not just in the U.S., but perhaps other parts of the world.
“Everyone needs to know that measuring is going to become more and more important,” said J.D. Grubb, director of procurement for C.H. Robinson Co., Eden Prairie, Minn.
“They need to learn how to develop a lifecycle analysis of their products. The first step is to eliminate negative impacts.”
Integrally involved in the index is Ron McCormick, formerly vice president/divisional merchandise manager of produce and floral at the firm, who has moved to a new position overseeing sustainability and locally grown initiatives.
Wal-Mart also stands out for its packaging scorecard, which includes elements such as the recyclability of a package.
“Other than Wal-Mart, no other retailers have gone into such detail,” said Kim Flores, spokeswoman for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla.
“They’ve put more emphasis on sustainability than any other customer out there.”
Having completed the second year of its program for sourcing local produce, Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y., has 540 local growers that help provide commodity items in summer to mid-fall, said Dave Corsi, vice president of produce and floral operations.
The retailer considers the use of local growers as key to its sustainability focus, because it reduces food miles associated with the produce, Corsi said, adding that the practice has cut down on the amount of greenhouse product imported from Holland.
“Now, there’s a lot of great greenhouse produce available in our region, so we use that in our two distribution centers,” he said.
C.H. Robinson has taken the notion of local sourcing to a national level so it can satisfy the needs of larger customers, said Bud Floyd, vice president of produce marketing.
“We’ve taken the concept of sustainability and developed programs that customers can identify with, such as regional sourcing programs, which consists of both existing growers and legacy farmers, or those that had quit growing produce and are coming back to it,” Floyd said, adding that it’s particularly taken off in the southeastern states, including Mississippi.