Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index, announced in July 2009 to much fanfare, is not a single unified document that can be “read” like a book or paper or other report. It’s a framework that Wal-Mart intends eventually to cover every product it sells at the point of sale, providing information on the environmental attributes of those products, sort of like nutrition labels on packaged foods disclose nutritional information. We have yet to see how this will work in practice because Wal-Mart itself is not administering the index or labeling–that will be done by an independent group of researchers called the Sustainability Consortium. No one’s quite sure how the Consortium will go about evaluating individual products, and what those evaluations could mean. Generally, however, the buzz about Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index has been positive. Despite the real questions about how it’s going to play out, Wal-Mart is so monolithic in the retail industry that its move toward sustainable disclosures has the potential to affect market forces in a way that no other single company can really do. In short, it’s too early to tell, but it may be a step in the right direction.
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