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Walmart and HSBC have announced today the launch of a sustainable supply chain finance programme that will tie a supplier's financing rate to its sustainability performance.

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Last week, Unilever announced it expects to reach 50% recycled content in its packaging by the end of this year, having originally announced its commitment to plastic packaging in 2017.

The statement outlined Unilever’s plan to "increase its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025 against a 2015 baseline." To support efforts, it’s adding a ‘How2Recycle’ label, designed to give consumers clear instructions how packaging should be discarded. Unilever expects to have rolled these labels out to all its products’ labels by 2021.

Collaboration with Walmart

Unilever is working with retailers, including Walmart, on efforts to improve recycling. It plans to work with the retailer to educate shoppers on recycling through a programme called ‘Bring it to the Bin."

Speaking at Walmart’s Sustainability Milestone Meeting

In a statement made at the Walmart Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting, Unilever North America President, Amanda Sourry said, “[Unilever] is significantly accelerating our plastic packaging commitments in North America and are thrilled to be working alongside other industry leaders like Walmart to push these initiatives forward.

“We need collective action to tackle the problem at the source by working with forward-thinking companies like Walmart, advocating for systemic change in government and recycling facilities, working closely with plastics suppliers, and educating consumers."

From a new reusable bags campaign to ‘Project Gigaton’ and new sustainable textile goals.

For the first time, reusable bags will be available to customers for purchase across checkout carousels at its US stores. Reduction of plastic waste, as well as improved customer convenience, are the main drivers of this initiative, which was announced at its 2019 Sustainability Milestone Summit.

The new range of reusable bags are manufactured with post-consumer recycled materials. At this year’s summit, the two-year anniversary of ‘Project Gigaton’ has been highlighted, which is a platform shared with Walmart’s suppliers that aims to eliminate 1 billion tons (a gigaton) of emissions from its worldwide value chains by 2030. Within the last two years, several suppliers have delivered results and reported eliminating more than 93 million tons of emissions.

Aiming for a sustainable sourcing of textiles

Walmart also announced a couple of new sustainability targets for its apparel and soft home textiles section within US stores:

  • Sourcing more sustainable fibres
  • Reducing manufacturing impact

Increasing the availability of electric vehicle charging stations

As of 2018, Walmart has made electronic vehicle charging stations available at retail locations across 29 states.

It has also outlined its progress towards its goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy, and to have 50% of its operations powered with renewable energy by 2025. Essentially, it has sealed agreements for the construction of 136 new solar and wind projects which will eventually supply the equivalent electricity usage of over 260,000 homes a year.

Walmart has taken several sustainability measures over the last few years. Check out the Walmart hub for more on its initiatives.

Following successful pilots, Walmart plans to roll out a new range of robots into its stores, which aim to perform duties such as checking inventory, store maintenance, unloading lorries, sorting products and fulfilling online orders, allowing store associates to focus on serving customers on the shop floor.

Walmart said it has been trialling the technology for months and seen a very positive response from store staff. Among the technology that has been rolled out, FAST unloaders are perhaps the most interesting piece of tech. Essentially, they’re capable of unloading a lorry of merchandise along a conveyor belt in a much shorter time than what could be done by a human operator.

Working in tandem with shelf-scanner robots

The machines automatically scan and sort items that have been unloaded based on their priority and department. It is important to note that the unloaders work in tandem with the Auto-S shelf scanning robots which are able to update product availability, flag out-of-stocks and ensure proper shelf location amongst other tasks. Thanks to the data shared by the self-scanner robot, the relevant inventory can be moved from the back room into the corresponding shelves much quicker, with out-of-stocks being prioritised.

“What’s especially cool is that two pieces of tech, the shelf scanners and the FAST Unloaders, share data back and forth to improve the whole process of getting products on the shelves,” said Elizabeth Walker, manager of brand content at Walmart.

Scaling up the roll out

The retailer noted earlier in the testing stage that unloading was a heavily disliked occupation, and one it had trouble hiring or retaining staff. Last summer, 30 unloaders were rolled out in the US with more added on a weekly basis. 1,200 FAST unloaders are being added to the existing 500 machines, bringing the total to 1,700.

A Walmart spokesperson said: “What we’re seeing so far suggests investments in store technology are shaping how we think about turnover and hours. The technology is automating pieces of work or tasks, rather than entire jobs. As that’s happening, we have been able to use many of the hours being saved in other areas of the store — focused more on service and selling for customers.”

Walmart has made signficant investment in technology to improve its store operations recently. Check out the Walmart supply chain snapshot.



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