Leading the Next Wave of Sustainability

Isn’t it ironic that the global icon most often associated with the death of small and family businesses might also be the business to lead the way for a next generation of businesses to model their sustainability after? Wal-Mart, a family business with very humble beginnings, is experiencing its own transition of leadership and business practices. A new logo, a new strategy and a sustained initiative towards making the business more green, more accepted and at the same time profitable. Wal-Mart remains profitable. “Along with McDonald’s Corp, it was one of only two companies in the Dow Jones industrial average whose share price rose last year” reports a recent article in the New York Times (http://twurl.nl/nall52). CEO H. Lee Scott, who is retiring this month, began pushing the sustainability program in 2005, but much of the change has occurred thanks to small groups of employees on the inside.  Change may be slow, but given their size, Wal-Mart can demand much of their suppliers and supply chain.

Wal-Mart will continue to be a challenge for small and family owned business who try to compete (see Kmart). Finding your niche and focusing on your strategy will ultimately serve any business well. A great example of this is Brady’s Power Equipment who will gladly service all that equipment that Wal-Mart and Home Depot sell but won’t dare to service.

Earlier sustainability efforts by Wal-Mart were easily dismissed as window dressing. Even with only picking the low hanging fruit at this point, Wal-Mart has begun to post profits again. A valid question at this point is will the sustainability efforts reach as far as their personnel practices as well?

Wal-Mart, far from perfect, is at least embracing transition and moving in a positive direction that could ultimately benefit our global population. The bigger test remains to be seen whether a new strategy to capture new and different customers will be successful.

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