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BENTONVILLE, Ark. – The world’s largest retailer is going to start taking more responsibility for the business standards of its global suppliers, by holding them more accountable for environmental and social standards at factories overseas, citing rising public expectations.
The retailer, based here, will also begin next month to use corn-based packaging materials in place of petrol-based materials.
The news about business standards of suppliers came from Wal-Mart Stores c.e.o. H. Lee Scott yesterday, during a conference on retail trends held in Fayetteville, Ark. by the University of Arkansas' Sam M. Walton College of Business. Scott said the company will work with its suppliers to find new products that meet demand for higher standards, such as new clothing lines made from organically grown cotton, which the company plans to sell next year.
In other news, Wal-Mart revealed that starting Nov. 1, it will switch from conventional petroleum-based plastic packaging applications for several fresh food categories to corn-based plastic, a move that will likely put other food retailers on notice.
Wal-Mart is getting the environmentally friendly packaging from NatureWorks, LLC, based in Minnetonka, Minn. With high oil prices spurring its decision, the retail giant will lead the switch initially by substituting the 114 million clear plastic clamshells it uses annually for fresh-cut fruit, fresh herbs, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts, Wal-Mart official Matt Kistler said Wednesday at the Sustainable Packaging Forum in Philadelphia, according to local press reports.
"With this change to packaging made from corn, we will save the equivalent of 800,000 gallons of gasoline and reduce more than 11 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions," said Kistler, v.p. for product development and private brands for Wal-Mart’s Sam's Club unit, as quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer. "This is a way to make a change positive for the environment and for business."
The chain’s shift to eco-friendly packaging is a huge coup for NatureWorks, a division of Cargill, Inc., which has been the first company to offer a family of commercially available polymers derived 100 percent from annually renewable resources with cost and performance that compete with petroleum-based packaging materials and fibers. NatureWorks produces the plastic for its containers from polylactic acid, which is derived from corn.
Wal-Mart will feature the packaging in its 3,779 U.S. Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and Neighborhood Market stores. The new plastic will also be used to make the chain’s calling cards and gift cards, as well as in the windows of cake and doughnut boxes.