Walmart announced a sustainability index in mid-July that will help more than 100,000 global suppliers evaluate their own sustainability. The second phase of this exercise is now underway with a consortium of universities that are collaborating with suppliers, retailers, non-governmental organizations and government officials to create a global database of information on product lifecycles — from raw materials to disposal.
The Sustainability Index Consortium has initial funding from Walmart, with other retailers encouraged to join. The consortium will be administered by the University of Arkansas and Arizona State University, and meetings have already occurred to look at the personal care sector and the electronics sector. The ultimate outcome of this exercise is to provide consumers with an easy tool to understand product information so they can make informed decisions about the products that they buy to live in a more sustainable way.
Much of the issue of sustainability has to do with the supply chain and the energy and carbon footprint of moving goods far distances across the globe. Spatial analysis is key to putting this picture together for each manufacturer, each product and each food source.
Walmart is taking a good look at their own supply chain, particularly with perishable food sources for their grocery stores. Produce is a big component of this research as a large amount of perishable goods are wasted, adding up to large dollar losses for all food retailers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a waste of more than 96 Billion pounds of produce wasted yearly.
For instance, most spinach that’s distributed in the United States is grown in California. The analysis of this fact reveals that there are other suitable areas in the country where spinach can be grown almost year-round. Growing the food closer to the stores will save energy, and add days or weeks to the time the products will remain fresh on the shelves.
This effort will lead to more sustainable business practices, more efficient product manufacturer, and lower impacts on our planet. The analysis of raw materials to final products is a fascinating exercise that will reveal a lot about the impacts of globalization. And this research effort at such a grand scale will lead to innovations in spatial analysis and a greater awareness of the power of geospatial tools.