Wal-Mart Backs Eco-Friendly Center
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The Wal-Mart Foundation announced yesterday that it donated $1.5 million to help establish a sustainability research center at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, part of the company's initiative to become more environmentally friendly.
The Applied Sustainability Center will work to develop green business practices for the retail and consumer goods industries. Over the next year, the center plans to study ways to reduce carbon in products and identify key sustainability issues in agriculture. The center will also hold a speakers series, help train buyers for Wal-Mart and fund student research.
"This is a great kick-start for the center," said John A. White, the university's chancellor. "The challenges we face are just immense in terms of the waste of resources."
Wal-Mart, with headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., has been the catalyst for a recent influx of green business and technology in northwestern Arkansas. Chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. two years ago laid out ambitious goals for the company: to produce no waste, to be supplied by renewable energy, and to sell sustainable products. He has also pledged to spread the company's efforts to encompass suppliers, customers and communities.
"The donation will help fund important projects that are going to make a real impact in our day-to-day business: reducing the carbon emissions and fossil fuels used in making the products we sell, and driving the availability of local produce in our stores and clubs," said C. Douglas McMillon, chief executive of Sam's Club, the warehouse-club division of Wal-Mart.
The Wal-Mart Foundation is the charitable unit of the company. The foundation and company donated more than $270 million last year.
By working with the university, Wal-Mart hopes it can help foster creation of the technology needed to accomplish its environmental goals. It has said it will invest $500 million annually to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions at its stores and improve the efficiency of its fleet. Though progress has been made -- Wal-Mart is working on the first hybrid heavy-duty truck -- it has delayed release of a much-anticipated report on the progress of its efforts. The sustainability report was expected this summer, but the company now hopes to release it in the fall.
Wal-Mart has had a long-standing relationship with the University of Arkansas. The Fayetteville campus's business school is named after Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, and its basketball arena carries the name of his brother, Bud. The retailer helped the university raise about $1.04 billion during its latest, seven-year fundraising drive, through its own donations and donations from the retailer's many suppliers, White said.
But when Andrew Ruben, Wal-Mart's vice president of sustainability, approached the chancellor early last year about creating a sustainability research center, "I about nearly fell out of the chair," White said. The school worked with Wal-Mart on two other programs, the Center for Innovation in Health Care Logistics and the Radio Frequency Identification Research Center.
"Every place that we have gone together with Wal-Mart, we have found lots of others to join us in that journey," White said.
The university has also embarked on its own project to reduce the amount of natural resources it uses and waste it creates. Early steps include moving to electronic filing and communication in many departments, moving class schedules online, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED and fluorescent lighting.
"The job before us is a big one," White said. "Wal-Mart's gift is a significant recognition of the problem."