Wal-Mart’s Scorecard Drives Sustainable Packaging

The retail giant is beginning to scrutinize suppliers based on the scorecard and package modeling software.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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The new package’s key environmental benefit is a significant reduction in the number of trucks hauling milk from the dairy to Sam’s Club stores, which translates into reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The new jug “ships more efficiently, allowing 9 percent more product on a truck, or approximately 400 more gallons,” says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Frederick. “Trucks packed more efficiently—or ‘cubed out’—will result in fewer trucks overall needed to ship the product.”

Canton, Ohio-based Creative Edge Design Group Ltd., which is owned by Superior Dairy, designed the new jug.
Wal-Mart is working with the suppliers of its private-label products, as well, to improve packaging sustainability. Even small changes to packaging are yielding valuable rewards, as illustrated by a change to Wal-Mart’s Great Value yogurt packaging.

The yogurt, with sales of approximately 120 million cups per year, originally was packaged in a cup with a plastic lid over a plastic seal. The redesigned package features a foil lid printed with product information. Wal-Mart estimates that replacing the plastic lid and seal will eliminate 930 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

No longer just a dry goods store, Wal-Mart has become America’s leading grocer.

For a different private-label product, Member’s Mark apple juice, Sam’s Club worked with the supplier to create a more earth-friendly package. The redesigned packaging is produced using 100 percent renewable energy generated from hydroelectric plants that use moving water to generate electricity. The package converting process also has realized a 35 percent gain in energy efficiency by integrating new technologies.

Wal-Mart also uses packaging made from a corn-based biopolymer manufactured by NatureWorks LLC (www.natureworksllc.com), Minnetonka, Minn., to package fresh produce. All of Wal-Mart’s cut fruit and 40-oz. vegetable trays currently are packaged using this sustainable material, and some 9-oz. vegetable trays, bags of spinach and green onions also are packaged in it.  

Wal-Mart reports that when it changed the packaging on just four produce items to the biopolymer in 2005, it saved approximately 800,000 gallons of gasoline and prevented more than 11 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Those kinds of examples are music to the ears of packaging suppliers that sell environmentally friendly packaging, like Delkor Systems Inc. (www.delkorsystems.com), Circle Pines, Minn. 

Much of Wal-Mart’s organic produce already has been packaged in NatureWorks biopolymer, which is biodegradable and made from a renewable resource (corn).

Delkor produces a materials-saving alternative to corrugated boxes called the Spot-Pak package. The package’s design uses corrugated pads to provide rigidity and hot-melt adhesive to temporarily bond individual packages to the corrugated. Shrink wrap secures the packed bundle.

Wal-Mart’s initiative, and the sustainability movement overall, “give license to a lot of manufacturers to try something new and unusual” in packaging their products, says Peter Fox, director of sales at Delkor. More beverage companies, for example, are starting to use the Spot-Pak package; dairies were the concept’s early adopters.

Companies that have historically felt strongly about packing their products in a conventional corrugated box are rethinking that model. “Now they’re getting a big retailer like Wal-Mart saying it’s OK not to put it in a box,” Fox says. “So suddenly there’s a lot more interest in talking with us and seeing what we can do.”

Contemplating phase 2

The scorecard has been perpetually evolving since Wal-Mart introduced it in test mode in November 2006. Packaging industry trade groups continue to gather information on the environmental impact of specific packaging materials — data that will be imported into the scorecard as a basis for calculations.

The Fibre Box Assn. (www.fibrebox.org), Elk Grove Village, Ill., is nearing the completion of a life-cycle study that will deliver updated data on the environmental impact of corrugated board. When the results become available, the association will hand over the data to GreenBlue (www.greenblue.org), Charlottesville, Va., a sustainability-focused nonprofit that has partnered with Wal-Mart to funnel the data into the scorecard.

Others providing data for the scorecard include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Chemistry Council and Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club associates in functions such as merchandising, logistics, transportation, operations, global procurement and marketing.

Throughout 2008, the Wal-Mart Packaging Sustainable Value Network (SVN) has been fine-tuning the calculations used in the scorecard’s calculations. The SVN includes several hundred members from government, non-governmental organizations, academia and industry.

Know the Score

How much packaging considerations are worth in the Wal-Mart scorecard

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