What Does Wal-Mart Want – Hint: No Greenwashing!

Wal-Mart’s drive toward going green may have been met by green activists with skepticism, but it’s hard to argue that they are focusing on efforts to make sustainability a key part of their business. Wal-Mart’s suppliers have been given the ultimatum: “Help us on our mission to go green and skip the greenwashing”.

Rand Waddoups, senior director of corporate strategy and sustainable development, on Thursday (August 7, 2008) told more than 250 suppliers that Wal-Mart had devised a clearer strategy on its sustainability marketing.

The plan focuses on four concepts that Wal-Mart wants to promote – waste improvement and recycling, natural resources, energy and social or community impact.

“We need to fill the pipeline with products,” Waddoups said. “Not only do we need more innovative products, but we need to be able to tell a story around that product.”

As any sales or marketing executive who has sold to Wal-Mart, as I have, can tell you, the only answer to that request is, “yes, sir (or madam).

Wal-Mart sent out emails to all buyers last week giving them an Aug. 18 deadline to submit “green” products that meet the criteria. Products selected will get a major promotion during Wal-Mart’s 2009 “Earth Month” marketing campaign.

Reading between the lines, this of course means, more than just developing a great green promotional story. Required is a compelling back story to support the green attributes and shield the manufacturer and Wal-Mart by extension from green washing.

If you’re planning to present green products or promotions to Wal-Mart, do your homework. Meeting Wal-Mart’s requirements these days means assembling a sustainability taskforce WITHIN the marketing department and including key team members from across the organization.

Effective team leadership requires BOTH an expert in sustainability AND someone comfortable with all aspects of the product development process from raw materials, through manufacturing and distribution.

Unfortunately, traditional MBA product managers may not be the best choice for this task in fairly traditional organizations. Managers of large established brands tend to spend most of their time on analysis and advertising and little time working with the nitty gritty of product production.

Neither are sustainability experts unfamiliar with the product development process at all the right choice. Some of the biggest pitfalls are in the supply chain, an area with which few in the organization have familiarity.

In most organizations, a team approach is going to be the best option, but how to best organize those teams is a question that will hamper the efforts of too many companies.

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Is it Crunch Time for Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Iniatives?

At Wal-Mart, marketing and environmentalism go hand in hand.

About the Author

Hear Maryanne speak on Social Media for Socially Conscious Brands at Expo East on September 27th! Maryanne Conlin is CPG brand marketer and digital marketing expert, CEO of RedRopes Digital and Partner Digital Strategy, 4GreenPs. A Shorty Award winner for best Green Content on Twitter, she was a member of the IAA team that won the Green Award in 2010 and most recently was a finalist for the PRSA - Los Angeles PRISM awards for social media. She and her team focus on providing strategic marketing direction, custom content for web, mobile and social platforms, social media community management and online promotions and digital advertising solutions for companies in the green, food and Hispanic space. Follow her on Twitter @maryanneconlin