Wal-Mart Wants Farmers to Lead Sustainability Solutions

February 26, 2013 05:32 PM

When Rob Kaplan walks in a room, people sometimes roll their eyes or shut down. Not because Kaplan is a bad guy, but because he carries the title of Senior Manager of Sustainability for Wal-Mart.

"It’s the term sustainability," Kaplan says. "It’s such a tough term for people to understand."

In Kaplan’s mind, though, sustainability is simple. It’s a key driver behind Wal-Mart’s business model: save people money so they live better.

Kaplan believes sustainability is about finding ways to improve efficiencies on the farm and through the supply chain so that consumers always get a low-priced, quality product in Wal-Mart stores. And Wal-Mart wants farmers to step up and lead the work toward solutions for improved sustainability – from resource management to quality assurance.

"Wal-Mart doesn’t believe customers should have to choose between sustainability and affordability," Kaplan said today at the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum in Orlando, Fla. "We are really excited to figure out supply chain solutions so we can provide what society needs. In some ways, this is a call to action."

Wal-Mart recently became the first retail member to join Field To Market, a diverse initiative that brings together farmers, agribusinesses, food companies, and conservation organizations to create sustainable outcomes for agriculture. The world’s largest retailer joined the initiative to begin working closer with agriculture and help move the industry from sustainability "metrics" to scalable solutions, Kaplan says.

Retailers like Wal-Mart others in the food industry want to be able to tell a positive story to consumers, says Rick Tolman, CEO, National Corn Growers Association, who also spoke at the Ag Issues Forum. NCGA is also a member of the Field to Market initiative and Tolman says this it is exciting to finally be having discussions between the farm and the retailer.

"We have talked about sustainability for 15 years with the food industry on one end and farmers on the other," Tolman says. "So it’s new that I can talk to Wal-Mart and hear what consumers tell them, and I can tell them what farmers say. We are not talking at each other anymore. We are talking with each other."

It’s important to note that Wal-Mart is not a marketing-driven organization, says Kaplan, it is a product-driven organization. "The reason people shop at Wal-Mart is everyday low prices," he says. "When people walk through our door, we want them to know they have the most sustainable products at their disposal.

"This is a leadership opportunity for farmers, for an industry or an individual agricultural company," Kaplan adds. "We are the largest retailer in America. We have a corporate mission around sustainability. It’s up to our suppliers to show leadership on sustainability."

For more on Wal-Mart’s "call to action" on sustainability in agriculture, watch this video with Rob Kaplan at the Ag Issues Forum:



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