"If you're in a bad situation, don't worry, it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry, it'll change."
-- John A. Simone Jr.
In a hotel in Osaka, was reading the Daily Yomiuri this morning. In an article about economic recovery the writer reported on the need for American consumers to start…consuming more. Japanese consumers seem to be doing their part. Americans are vexing the stock market, though, with their reticence to spend.
This inspired me to mangle William Carlos Williams:
So much depends on the American consumer / glazed with pain / inside the big box store.
In a recent conversation I was told that indigenous people in South America see consumers caught in a trance of consumption. Like the no-face character in Hayao Miyazaki’s Sen to Chichiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) consumers seem to be insatiable in their appetite for more-or, at least, we are expected to be.
To be what? The engine and fuel of the global economy that’s what. The global economy needs us to buy more, spend more to support so that it can support us. Talk about dysfunctional co-dependence. Not healthy, not sustainable, not particularly attractive. Unless, you like another Miyazaki image from Spirited Away of Chihiro’s gluttonous parent’s changing into swollen, slobbering pigs as they gorge themselves at a counter heaping with food.
Yet, what is the alternative? If we stop buying all this stuff what are Wal-Mart and their myriad of suppliers going to do? You may think I’m being sarcastic-I’m not. So much does depend on our participation in this game of consumption.
Where to begin?
Be aware of the game you’re playing and the effects it is having on you, your family and the world around you. Next, learn the rules. As you’re putting that into practice let’s come together, convene. It’s time to change the rules.
Let’s stop being consumers of stuff and design a game that allows us to become creators of community, builders of value. Let’s build and design for abundance and not the scarcity and separation that comes with our current addiction to consumption.
You bring the bat. I’ve got the ball.
To quote Eric Clapton: “It’s in the way that you use it.”
The Wal-Mart sustainability index is measuring whether suppliers are measuring their impact on energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, resource depletion and the communities in which they operate. Essentially it’s binary with annotation. Are you or aren’t you? If you are, please describe what you are doing.
Wal-Mart is gathering data. The key question is “What for?” Wal-Mart has sustainability targets and standards. They can be found here. They are doing good work. Of particular note are their Sustainability Value Networks. In these networks they’re bringing together “leaders from our company, supplier companies, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” to work in categories that are core to Wal-Mart’s business. It is a matter of course that they will compare what they are learning from their suppliers with their own progress, most likely incorporating best practices along the way.
So, how will they use it with the suppliers? In the answer to this question lies the answer to the question in the title of this post. And, to really uncover the meaning in that answer requires us to look at the quality of relationships Wal-Mart forms with the suppliers and the quality of relationships the suppliers form with their network.
What do I mean? First, sustainability is something we do together. Fundamentally local and place based, sustainability depends on the quality of our relationships with the world around us. Reducing impact is good, however, relationship-wise this creates a less bad quality of connection. Imagine a spouse telling you that to strengthen your relationship he/she was still going to be bad but, from now on, less bad than before. A start? Yes. A strong foundation for a long-term relationship? No.
Second, sustainability is long term. What are we trying to sustain? Us. How do we do that? By sustaining what sustains us. One way to conceptualize this is a Value Web. Incremental reduction, though currently necessary is not sufficient. We become the slowly-boiled frog. The quality of relationships in our value web slowly erode, the web disintegrates and less bad leads to very, very bad. Simply, we need more good.
So, back to Wal-Mart and their suppliers. Moving forward, the better they are able to build networks of Collaboration that strengthen and enhance the Value Web the more sustainable the Wal-Mart sustainability index becomes. This is where those Sustainability Value Networks could really become value-abling. And, the more coherent their approach, the more effective the networks become at being sustainable. Again, it’s in the way that they use it.
So, now, think about this: For a retail giant like Wal-Mart this is a big hairy audacious undertaking that will touch pretty much all of us for generations to come. This matters. So do we.
So much depends on how we are, what we see and what we do now. As we do as we do we get what we get, becoming what we become. These are interesting times…
The survey is divided into four categories: Energy and Climate, Material Efficiency, Natural Resources, People and Community. In essence, it will function as an baseline measurement tool that sorts suppliers by having them demonstrate they are in control of their energy (GHG), waste (solid/water) management and reduction initiatives, material sourcing (production/certification), and community engagement (awareness of impact). At best, it points toward Cooperation. Basically, though, it sets a bar of Compliance for companies that want to do business with Wal-Mart
Though the first category is titled “Energy and Climate” a more appropriate heading would be “Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” The four questions in the category are focused completely through the lens of reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The second category, “Material Efficiency”, is dedicated to reduction of solid waste and water use. Linked closely to Wal-Mart’s Packaging Scorecard and their Zero-Waste initiative, it is asking companies to demonstrate how they “reduce waste and enhance quality.”
Category three, “Natural Resources” focuses mainly on sourcing and certification, asking companies to report on origin of materials, purchasing guidelines and 3rd-party certification.
The fourth category is “People and Community” and centers on corporate awareness of and engagement with the communities in which they operate. The first question is telling. It asks if companies know where all of their production and manufacturing facilities are. It’s a start…
Relatively unexceptional in its content it still has very strong potential to be a game-changing move. The reason is simple: as a supplier, to do business with Wal-Mart means doing business their way. Though they are not setting any baseline requirements at the moment, nor are they auditing suppliers (answers to the 15-question survey are received in good faith) they are asking suppliers to complete the survey. To do so means you want (and really need) to have policies and controls in place or risk getting pushed out by companies that do.
Ultimately, this points to the development of an embedded system of and processes for sustainable business. The question suppliers for Wal-Mart have to answer is: “How far do we want to go?” Simple Compliance or Conformity? Cooperation? Collaboration and Coherence? Or, systemic Constellation?
Up next: How sustainable is the Wal-Mart Sustainability Index?
Tags: Climate, Coherence, collaboration, Community, Compliance, Conformity, Constellation, cooperation, Energy, GHG, greenhouse gases, Material Efficiency, Natural Resources, Packaging Scorecard, Sustainability Index, Wal-Mart, waste, zero waste