By Daniel Upham, Writer, EDF Executive Office Operations
It’s said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Perhaps the transformation of 30,000 Chinese factories begins with simple improvements in one? Through our work with Walmart, this journey is underway.
Walmart’s environmental footprint is large, to be sure, but so too is its potential to impact positive environmental change. As the single largest U.S. importer of Chinese goods, and as China’s eighth-largest trading partner overall, Walmart’s decisions have a global impact. It’s the Walmart Effect, and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) believes it can be harnessed to drive real environmental progress. One way we do this is by figuring out ways to improve environmental performance at the 30,000 factories in China that supply Walmart with the products it sells.
For example, EDF is working with a run-of-the-mill toy factory that produces goods for Walmart and other retailers. There are literally tens of thousands of factories like it in China, but at least one thing sets this one apart: by implementing simple energy efficiency improvements that EDF has recommended, this factory has reduced its energy use by 47.8% since September 2009. That’s a nearly 50% reduction within one year, and best of all, these savings came from simple fixes, not dramatic changes.
EDF Project Manager Andrew Hutson, works closely with Walmart and praises the power of the uncommon partnership. “We couldn’t have gotten inside the factory without Walmart, and they wouldn’t have seen such a result without us.” Andrew credited industrial engineer Terry Foecke, a consultant, with much of the success. Terry’s expertise informed the specific efficiency recommendations. If Andrew appreciates Terry’s eye for detail, this factory’s managers appreciate his simple solutions that make them more efficient, and thus more attractive to business partners.
“It’s magical walking through a factory with this guy,” Andrew said. The engineer’s magic tools? Pen, paper and clipboard. Sometimes these and expert knowledge are all it takes to make a world of difference. The next step, currently underway, is creating a toolkit to replicate the process of identifying and addressing simple efficiency improvements at Walmart’s other 29,999 factories in China. It’s a long journey, but one definitely worth taking.
Stay tuned for future updates on our work with Walmart, and be sure to check out Andrew Hutson’s upcoming blog posts on his experience in China.