Cramer: How Wal-Mart is giving Amazon a run for its money

Wal-Mart gives Amazon a run for its money

Wal-Mart gives Amazon a run for its money  8 Hours Ago | 03:17

For so long, it seemed like no company could rival e-commerce colossus Amazon, but Jim Cramer thinks one up-and-coming online competitor could give it a run for its money: Wal-Mart.

“You might think this comparison sounds crazy, even after the excellent quarter Wal-Mart just reported [on Thursday], but when you take a step back, it’s pretty clear that these two companies have a lot more in common than you might expect,” the “Mad Money” host said.

Before the rise of Amazon, Wal-Mart’s scale and massive array of merchandise shuttered countless smaller stores because they could not compete.

“Wal-Mart was the great destroyer of retail, the great disruptor, laying waste to mom and pop stores all over the country by offering more products and undercutting them on price,” Cramer explained.

Watch the full segment here:

Cramer: How Wal-Mart is giving Amazon a run for its money

Cramer: How Wal-Mart is giving Amazon a run for its money  8 Hours Ago | 08:57

Amazon employs a similar strategy, using its scale to sell items online at their lowest available prices. Most retailers cannot compete, but Wal-Mart’s breadth and ability to negotiate with its suppliers enable it to keep pace with Amazon’s prices.

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon also set a goal for the company to become a major player in online retail, gaining approval from the Walton family, which owns just over half of the business.

With a good balance sheet, the company can afford to spend the money to challenge Amazon, but Cramer said the family’s approval was key for moving the process forward.

“As long as he’s got the backing of the family, he can afford to take some short-term hits in order to grow the company’s e-commerce presence. That’s a real rarity in this game,” Cramer said. “At most publicly traded companies, the shareholders tend to rebel when management starts promising near-term pain. And you better believe that declaring war on Amazon is painful.”

While Wal-Mart may not unseat Amazon as the top dog in e-commerce, the “Mad Money” host does believe it could become a serious competitor, with its online sales business up 63 percent in the latest quarter.

On Wal-Mart’s earnings conference call, the company touted its offering of 50 million products, up from 35 million last quarter and 10 million just one year ago.

Wal-Mart’s come-up in the online space started when the retailer announced plans to restructure in early 2015. The first step was closing 269 underperforming stores. Then, later in the year, McMillon announced a big boost in e-commerce spending — $900 milion in 2015 and $1.1 billion for the following year.

In response, the stock got pummeled, dropping from the mid-$80s to the mid-$50s, but with the backing of the Walton family, McMillon had permission to continue his agenda.

In the summer of 2016, Wal-Mart acquired one of the world’s fastest growing online retailers,, for $3.3 billion.

“The idea behind Jet is that they can offer customers tremendous bargains by giving you extra discounts if you order merchandise from the same distribution centers. Plus, the deal gave Wal-Mart access to a new cohort of wealthy, young, urban shoppers who might not otherwise be Wal-Mart shoppers,” Cramer said.

After a number of smaller acquisitions that expanded Wal-Mart’s online offerings, the company announced in March 2017 it would start its own incubator to invest in ideas and technologies that would change the future of retail, a new venture for the once-traditional company.

Finally, there’s one area where Wal-Mart does have a leg up over Amazon: fresh food. Ordering most things online is easy, but delivering perishables is more complicated.

“Wal-Mart’s grocery business is going strong, and once they get you in the door to buy that food, you might make impulse purchases — or if you know you’re going there, you can order stuff online, then pick it up in the store [to] save on shipping,” Cramer said. “Fresh food is Amazon’s Achilles heel, people.”

At the end of the day, Amazon is still the reigning king of e-commerce, but with 69 percent growth in online gross merchandise volume, Wal-Mart is easily second-best.

“Can Wal-Mart beat Amazon? Doubtful. But who says they need to? They just need to go toe-to-toe with Amazon and make money doing it, wipe out everybody else in bricks-and-mortar, and that’s entirely likely from what I’ve seen from this amazing quarter,” the “Mad Money” host said.

The stocks are completely different animals, however. Amazon’s powerful technology and web services arm puts its stock, which trades at 85 times next year’s earnings estimates, in a class above the rest.

Wal-Mart’s stock, a more old-school brick-and-mortar name, sells at only 17 times next year’s earnings.

“Here’s the bottom line: if you like owning high-flying fast growing tech stocks, Amazon’s great. OK? It’s for you. However, if you want more of a value play, I think Wal-Mart has done an incredible job of expanding online. They’re not going to take the lead in e-commerce anytime soon, but for the first time in ages, this business is actually a two-horse race,” Cramer said.

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Company recalls 21,000 pounds of frozen pizza sold at Walmart over potential listeria

A California-based company is recalling more than 21,200 pounds of frozen pizza sold at Walmart retail stores in 11 states due to potential listeria contamination. RBR Meat Company Inc. issued the recall for its Marketside Extra Large Supreme Pizza after possible listeria was discovered during routine sampling.

The product was available for purchase in Walmart store locations across California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska and Hawaii. According to a news release on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the products were produced on Feb. 23 and are packaged in a 50.6-ounce corrugated box containing one shrink-wrapped 16-inch pizza with lot code 20547.

According to FSIS, no illnesses tied to the recall had been reported as of March 15. However, consumers who have the product in their freezer or who have purchased it are urged to discard of it or return it for a refund.

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The recall comes amid a deadly listeria outbreak linked to a New York-based creamery that has resulted in at least six illnesses and two fatalities. Consuming foods contaminated with listeria could cause fever, muscle aches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, convulsions, diarrhea or other stomach issues. Pregnant women who are exposed to listeria may suffer miscarriage, stillbirths or premature delivery. Those with compromised immune systems are also considered at an increased risk of health complications after exposure.

Consumers with additional questions may contact FSIS at or 1-888-674-6854.

Rapper Who Threatened to Assassinate Trump had his Album Pulled From Walmart

Out of shape, ignorant “rapper” Rick Ross found himself in hot water after he wrote a song about assassinating President-elect Donald Trump.


Thanks to Mark Dice, who called up the megastore to advise them of Rick Ross and his threats, Walmart reportedly gave the order to remove the album from it’s stores according

From Billboard:

Walmart has allegedly stopped selling Rick Ross’ latest album, Black Market, due to a lyric about assassinating Donald Trump, according to reports on several websites, including XXL and AllHipHop.

Rick Ross Breaks Down ‘Black Market’ Track-By-Track

In the lyric, from the song “Free Enterprise,” he raps, “Assassinate Trump like I’m Zimmerman / Now accept these words as they came from Eminem.”

Black Market is currently not available on Walmart’s website. Neither Walmart nor representatives for Ross have responded to Billboard’s request for comment.

A writer named Mark Dice claims that Walmart removed the album from its inventory after he contacted the company about the lyric. He says that his complaint was also sent to other major retailers, including Amazon, Target and iTunes. At the time of publication, the album is still available on all three outlets’ websites.

“Walmart has apparently pulled Rick Ross’s new album Black Market after media analyst Mark Dice called them to bring to their awareness that the first track on the album “Free Enterprise” calls for the assassination of Donald Trump,” reads a caption to a recent video on Dice’s YouTube channel.

These idiots are going to learn the hard way that they can’t get away with this bullying, violent BS anymore.

Amy Moreno is a Published Author, Pug Lover & Game of Thrones Nerd. You can follow her on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Walmart Black Friday ad features $199 Apple iPad mini 2, $119 Chromebook deals


The Black Friday ad wars are finally starting to heat up, with Walmart’s ad surfacing shortly after Target’s. Like its rival, it has more tablet deals than ads leaked earlier in the cycle — including Apple’s iPad — along with specials on several low-cost laptops.

While Target has three different iPad models on sale, Walmart just has one — not surprisingly, the Apple’s cheapest model. The iPad mini 2 is discounted to $199, 79 cents less than what Target is going to be offering it for. Walmart makes up for it with a number of Android tablet specials, including a 7-inch RCA for just $28. It also has the Samsung Galaxy Tab E Lite 7-inch slate for $69 (99 cents lower than at Staples, with a $10 Google Play thrown in) and the Lenovo Tab 10 model for $99 ($50 off the regular price).

Also listed are a trio of tablets with bundled wireless keyboards, including a RCA Cambio 10.1-inch device that runs Windows 10 for $99, though that’s only about $10 less than the current price on the Walmart website. There are a pair of Android 2-in-1 deals in the form of a 10.1-inch SmarTab with Intel Atom processor for $72, and a 11.5-inch RCA Galileo Pro for $98.

Given their surging popularity, Chromebooks have been largely unseen in Black Friday ads thus far. Walmart has one, however, at a low price of $119. For that price ($60 less than Samsung is currently selling it for online), the Samsung Chromebook 3 gives you an Intel Celeron N3050 processor, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, and a 11.6-inch display. If you want a cheap Windows 10 laptop instead, you’ll have to pay a bit more ($199) for the HP 15-ba018wm with AMD E2-7110 processor, 4 gigs of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and 15.6-inch display.

Walmart has three additional budget notebook listed in Black Friday ad, each with a 15.6-inch displays. These include the HP 15-f222wm with an Intel Pentium N3540 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and touchscreen for $249, and an Acer laptop with Intel Core i5 chip, 6GB of memory, and 1TB hard drive for $299. Finally, for a little more ($349), there’s the HP 15-ba051wm with AMD A10-9600P processor, 8GB of RAM, terabyte hard drive, and choice of chassis color, along with a wireless mouse, 16GB flash drive, and a sleeve included in the price.

Tell Walmart to give a disabled 21-year employee his job back

Danny Ockenhouse has been a door greeter at Walmart for 21 years. Although Danny is bound to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, he amazes everyone he meets by his passion, commitment and love for his job. Those who know him or have worked with him say he takes great pride in his ability to go to work everyday.

After 2 decades of service, Walmart is taking that all away from Danny.

Walmart is changing the greeter position through a program called “More at the Door.” Now, greeters will be required to be able to lift at least 50 lbs, something Danny can’t do. Danny was informed he would no longer have a job at Walmart. He is devastated, and so are many in the community.

Upon hearing the news, many in the community protested outside the Walmart where Danny works. Danny told reporters, “I poured my heart and soul into this company.” Still, Walmart refuses to find Danny a job.

Danny’s firing represents a betrayal of big companies to their most loyal employees — it shows how disposable we can be no matter how long we serve. It’s wrong and Walmart needs to find a place for Danny in their company. Tell Walmart to give Danny Ockenhouse his job back.

Walmart and Martial Law


Has Walmart been part of a conspiracy against the American people since its inception and are plans now in place to use their super-centers for mass detention? These videos provide some frightening evidence that points to the affirmative.

Youtube link

Youtube link

h/t Robert Reyvolt

Walmart partners with Uber, Lyft to offer same-day grocery deliveries

Walmart is expanding its grocery business, and going after Amazon in the process.

Ahead of its annual shareholders meeting Friday,   the retail giant announced that it would be partnering with Uber, Lyft and Deliv to test same-day grocery deliveries. Walmart has been expanding its online grocery business in recent years, letting customers order online and then simply pick their orders up at a nearby store. Under this pilot program Walmart will be expanding into what’s known as “the last mile,” or delivery from the store to a customer’s home.

Walmart has been delivering to San Jose and Denver for the past few years, offering same-day delivery through a Walmart grocery truck. The company began  testing grocery deliveries to business customers in Miami earlier this year through a partnership between its Sam’s Club brand and delivery start-up Deliv.  The Uber and Lyft deliveries will be coming to Denver and Phoenix in the next two weeks, offering direct delivery from stores to customers. Uber will be handling deliveries in Phoenix, while Lyft will be covering Denver.

In addition to opening up new cities for deliveries, Walmart will also be expanding its grocery pickup service to 14 new markets this month. By the end of July the service will be in over 60 markets, more than triple the 20 markets the company started with in April.
Similar to Amazon’s Prime Now, a customer simply orders items  online and chooses a two-hour delivery window. Walmart employees then gather the items on the list and request a driver from one of the services to come and pick them up. Current items offered range from fresh produce and meat to bakery items, baby food, cosmetics, batteries, diapers or pet food. The company says 40,000 items are available, 30,000 of them food-related and 10,000 more general merchandise items.

To take advantage of Walmart’s online grocery service you need to have an order of at least $30, with delivery costing $7 to $10 more. As Walmart is handling the delivery arrangement, customers do not need to pay the Uber or Lyft driver separately.

Amazon, by comparison, requires a $15 minimum order and includes free delivery, though you also need to be a member of the company’s $99 annual Prime service to access Prime Now.

“We’re thrilled about the possibility of delivering new, convenient options to our customers, and about working with some transformative companies in this test,” said Michael Bender, the COO of Walmart’s Global eCommerce division in a blog post announcing the program. “We’ll start small and let our customers guide us.”

Walmart hid $76bn of assets in foreign tax havens, new study claims

Walmart hid $76bn of assets in tax havens across the world, including $64.2bn managed by 22 different subsidiaries in Luxembourg, where Walmart has no stores, according to a study published on Wednesday.

The study, published by campaign group Americans for Tax Fairness and funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, alleged that Walmart has “kept its tax haven subsidiaries secretive by burying mention of their existence”. Walmart denied the claims.

The authors claimed Walmart’s global empire keeps billions of dollars of assets away from the prying eyes of the taxman via a network of shell companies in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and a host of Caribbean countries known for their low taxes.

According to the report, since 2011 Walmart has transferred ownership of its stores in Brazil, Japan, Puerto Rico and South Africa to Luxembourg. It claims that Walmart’s Luxembourg operations paid less than 1% in tax on profits of more than $1.3bn between 2010 and 2013.

A spokesman for Walmart, denied that the company passed its overseas profits through Luxembourg in order to avoid tax. The spokesman, Randy Hargrove, told the Guardian that Walmart used its Luxembourg office to manage its affairs because “many banks are headquartered there, and the people are well educated”. He also said Luxembourg had a favourable time zone for managing its international affairs. There is a seven-hour time difference between Luxembourg and Tokyo.

Hargrove dismissed the overall report as “incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers”. He said the report’s finding that Walmart placed $64.2bn assets under control of Luxembourg-registered companies was “wrong” but was unable to provide a correct figure.

In a statement he said: “This is the same union-supported group that regularly issues similar, flawed reports on Walmart to promote their agenda rather than the facts. This latest report includes incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers.


“Walmart paid $6.2 billion in US federal corporate income tax last year, nearly 2% of all corporate income tax collected by the US treasury. Walmart also pays over $10bn in payroll taxes for its 1.3m US associates. In addition, Walmart paid $3.3bn in property tax, state income tax, franchise tax and other state taxes.”

He said Walmart has “processes in place to comply with applicable SEC and IRS rules, as well as the tax laws of each country where we operate.”

The report said that Walmart’s 592 British stores are owned via Broadstreet European Holdings Co-operative in the Netherlands and Azure Holdings Sarl in Luxembourg.

It makes Walmart the latest in a string of multinational companies, including Pepsi and Ikea, to be exposed for exploiting international tax loopholes via Luxembourg.

Walmart, which is majority-owned by the Walton Family (who are said to be worth a combined $175bn), made $27.4bn profit before tax last year.

Nancy Reynolds, a cashier at a Walmart store in Merritt Island, Florida, said: “Walmart’s tax havens are making one of the richest families in the world even richer while Walmart workers continue to struggle to get by on poverty-level wages. It’s time for Walmart and the billionaire Waltons to pay their fair share – both by implementing a $15/hour minimum wage in the US, and committing to pay their fair share of taxes all around the world.”

Alke Boessiger of global union UNI said: “We have known for a long time that Walmart’s low-road business model keeps many of its own workers in poverty and encourages abuses throughout the company’s global supply chain. Now we know that Walmart’s low-road business model includes the extensive use of tax havens to avoid paying its fair share of taxes all over the world.”

Walmart Recalling 90,000 Pounds Of Beef For Containing “Extraneous Wood Materials”

Walmart announced this week that they will be recalling 90,000 pounds of beef because they could possibly contain “extraneous wood materials.”

According to a press release from the USDA, The Sam’s Choice Black Angus Vidalia Onion items which were produced on various dates between Nov. 19, 2015, and Dec. 9, 2015 are at risk of contamination.

The press release stated that:

The foreign material originated with an incoming ingredient and was discovered during production. There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

The beef patties were produced by the Huisken Meat Company, which is based in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota.

The food products sold at Wal-Mart are known to be questionable.

As we reported last year, a mother accidentally discovered that Wal-Mart ice cream bars will not melt, even when exposed to very hot temperature, after she left one of the bars out in the sun for an extended period of time. Her discovery sparked experiments across the country which all ended up with the same results: something inside of the ice cream bars is preventing them from melting. After testing the product more thoroughly, Consumer Reports linked the slow melt time with the various gums that are injected into the ice cream.

Wal-Mart recently rolled out a new public relations scheme to improve their public image, and make people think that they care about the environment.

Unfortunately, as Stacy Mitchell of Grist recently pointed out, Wal-Mart’s new environmentally friendly promise is a total lie, even according to the company’s own writing.

Starting recently, Wal-Mart is now tagging over 3,000 of its products with a new “Sustainability Leaders” label, which gives the impression that they are doing something for the environment, but in reality the label means absolutely nothing.

In the fine print of Walmart’s sustainability shopping portal reads the following warning, “The Sustainability Leaders badge does not make representations about the environmental or social impact of an individual product.”

This article (Walmart Recalling 90,000 Pounds Of Beef For Containing “Extraneous Wood Materials”) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and

John Vibes is an author and researcher who organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference. He also has a publishing company where he offers a censorship free platform for both fiction and non-fiction writers. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can purchase his books, or get your own book published at his website

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How Walmart Became a Sustainability Leader

On Oct. 23, 2005, Lee Scott, at the time CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., spoke from the auditorium of the company’s Home Office in Bentonville, Ark., the first time a company speech had been livecast to every one of the company’s stores, clubs and distribution centers.

Scott acknowledged that “we are in uncharted territory as a business,” thanks to the company’s massive size and scope. “If we were a country, we would be the 20th largest in the world. If Walmart were a city, we would be the fifth largest in America.” He also acknowledged, although not explicitly, that his company had been under fire on a range of topics, from employee wages and healthcare to community and environmental impacts. Nearly every interest group, it seemed, could point to something wrong with Walmart.

But Scott also had recently gotten a glimpse of what was right with Walmart, and a vision of what a leadership company looked like.

Less than two months before Scott’s speech, Hurricane Katrina ravaged America’s Gulf Coast. The storm hit some of Walmart’s stores and clubs. Some of the company’s employees lost their homes and savings; a few lost their lives. Still, Walmart associates in the region rose to meet the challenges.

One store manager in Waveland, Mississippi, took a bulldozer to clear a path into and through her store, finding every dry item she could to give to neighbors who needed shoes, socks, food and water. “She didn’t call the Home Office and ask permission,” Scott noted. “She just did the right thing.”

In Katrina’s aftermath, government agencies, relief agencies and communities turned to Walmart (and other companies) to help. Walmart, with its sophisticated and highly efficient logistics operation, was able to get supplies to where they were needed far faster than federal and state agencies could. It was a shining moment for the company, and some much-needed positive press.

It was also an eye-opener for Scott. As he put it in his speech:

Katrina asked this critical question, and I want to ask it of you: What would it take for Walmart to be that company, at our best, all the time? What if we used our size and resources to make this country and this earth an even better place for all of us: customers, associates, our children and generations unborn? What would that mean? Could we do it? Is this consistent with our business model? What if the very things that many people criticize us for — our size and reach — became a trusted friend and ally to all, just as it did in Katrina?

His speech, “Twenty First Century Leadership,” was a rare moment of public introspection by a Fortune 10 CEO.

After asking the questions, Scott attempted to answer them. He laid out some big environmental goals for the company, as well as announcing an employee healthcare plan, a commitment to engage more effectively with communities, to advocate to raise the minimum wage and to improve workforce diversity, among other measures.

The minimum-wage proposal made the headlines — “Wal-Mart calls for minimum wage hike,” reported CNN — but the three environmental goals arguably had more immediate and far-reaching impacts:

  1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
  2. To create zero waste.
  3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

Scott was quick to add: “These goals are both ambitious and aspirational, and I’m not sure how to achieve them — at least not yet. This obviously will take some time.”

A force for good

Ten years later, Scott’s words are proving prophetic: Addressing these commitments is, indeed, taking some time. Answers to the questions about how Walmart can achieve its ambitious sustainability goals are in view, if not always in focus. The company, which notably did not set any timelines for these goals, nonetheless has been on a steady march of progress, moving forward on dozens of fronts — far more than most of the public or many of its critics understands or appreciates.

Along the way, Walmart — whose worldwide annual revenue has grown by just over 50 percent since Scott’s speech, from about $315 billion to $485 billion, and from about 6,500 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores worldwide to more than 11,000 — has sent reverberations throughout its sprawling supply chain, including nearly every consumer packaged goods company. To varying degrees, its suppliers have cut energy, water, materials, toxic ingredients and other inputs, and created less waste and fewer emissions — for themselves as well as for Walmart stores and consumers. It’s hard to find a sector untouched by the company’s environmental ambitions, including many business-to-business sectors at the far reaches of Walmart’s supply chain, and at the far reaches of the globe.

Given Walmart’s size and appetite for growth, its relentless drive to cut costs and the aggressive demands it has been known to make of suppliers, there’s still plenty to criticize.

The nagging question, of course, is whether and how all this activity makes Walmart “sustainable,” or anything close. Given the company’s size and appetite for growth, its relentless drive to cut costs and the aggressive demands it has been known to make of suppliers, there’s still plenty to criticize. And amid all the changes, one thing is constant: Walmart remains a lightning rod for labor unions, environmental and other activist groups and local communities, critical of the company’s impacts on its workers, suppliers and the communities in which it operates and sources its goods. And, of course, on the planet.

But there’s little question that Walmart is perceived differently these days, no longer as a recalcitrant laggard in the arena of social and environmental sustainability, but as a force for good — albeit, a big and sometimes lumbering one. To the extent the retailer wanted to reverse its reputational slide, it largely has succeeded. Today, it’s a matter of making a difference as big as the company itself.

But we’re getting ahead of the story.

Under attack

The tale of how Walmart got to Scott’s speech in October 2005 is telling, both of the existential crisis the company faced at the time as well as the vision that launched a thousand initiatives.

At the time, in the early and mid-2000s, the company was under attack on multiple fronts. I recall sitting in on a meeting of activist groups convened in the San Francisco offices of a socially responsible investment firm in the early 2000s. The group was pondering a unified strategy for confronting Walmart on its many perceived environmental and social sins. At the table were perhaps two dozen organizations, addressing forests, fisheries, agriculture, toxics, new moms, human rights, indigenous people, healthcare and more.

I was particularly struck by the presence of the Mineral Policy Center, a small nonprofit dedicated to cleaning up the environmental problems caused by mining and onshore oil development. (It is now part of the nonprofit group Earthworks.) I asked: Why were they present?

It became crystal clear that the tentacles of this company were vast and complex, and so would be the activists’ response.

The eight-word answer was an eye-opener. “Walmart is the largest jeweler in the world,” they responded. Nothing more need be said. It became crystal clear that the tentacles of this company were vast and complex, and so would be the activists’ response. And it was also clear that Walmart would have its work cut out for itself if it intended to dig itself out of the reputational hole these activists had helped create.

System conditions

Around this time, in 2004, Jib Ellison was a management consultant in a San Francisco boutique firm called Trium. An accomplished river guide, he was known for taking corporate executives on “learning journeys” into nature to learn about innovation, teamwork and communication. His expertise was in helping companies solve big problems and manage crises.

Along the way, Ellison attended a presentation about the Natural Step, a Swedish-born sustainable business framework that had a brief moment in the sustainability spotlight in the U.S. during the early 2000s. The Natural Step framework sets out four science-based “system conditions” required for the sustainability of human activities on Earth, and has been used by a handful of companies to orient their sustainability strategies and activities.

The presentation led to an epiphany by Ellison: that the framework could fit with his existing work to create long-term advantage for companies by aligning their strategies with the planetary limits imposed by the Natural Step.

Ellison left Trium to explore this notion. Among the people he talked to was Peter Seligmann, founder and CEO of Conservation International, a prolific fundraiser who, in Ellison’s estimation, “had a bunch of people on his board who ran big companies who obviously were interested in these sorts of issues because they gave him millions of dollars every year.”

One of those people was Rob Walton, chairman of the board of Wal-Mart Stores, with whom Seligmann had developed a close relationship, including sharing a diving trip in Costa Rica and, over time, hiking in Madagascar, boating through Brazil and another diving trip, in the Galápagos. Seligmann introduced Walton to Jib Ellison.

As it turned out, Walmart was seeking advice on how to deal with the public relations challenges it was having with communities, environmentalists and labor. The conversation led to a meeting in Bentonville. It also led Ellison to form a company: Blu Skye Sustainability Consulting.

Beyond a defensive crouch

In early 2005, Ellison, Seligmann and Glenn Prickett, who at the time headed CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, flew to Bentonville to meet with Walton, Scott and others at Walmart’s famously modest redbrick Home Office.

“They were so isolated in Bentonville at that time they really didn’t understand why people didn’t just love them,” Ellison recalled to me recently. “They’re like, ‘We do everything right. We deliver to our customers every day the lowest price. We’re hardworking. We have integrity.’ That was their story.”

“They were so isolated in Bentonville at that time they really didn’t understand why people didn’t just love them.”

During that meeting, Scott and his colleagues began to understand that being proactive on environmental and social issues might be a better strategy than the defensive crouch that had been the retailer’s principal approach to its critics.

Along the way, Scott and his colleagues realized that they needed Blu Skye’s help. Built on the backbone of a growing engagement with Walmart, Blu Skye would become one of the leading boutique sustainability consultancies and Walmart’s principal “river guide” as it traversed the twisting and sometimes treacherous journey toward sustainability.

One of the first people inside Walmart that Jib Ellison tapped was Andy Ruben, the company’s vice president of corporate strategy. Ruben had come to Walmart in 2002 after a consulting role at Capgemini, and quickly became one of Scott’s trusted lieutenants. Ruben and Ellison met at Scott’s suggestion.

“Walmart needed a river guide. It didn’t need someone who was an expert in carbon at that moment.”

Ruben immediately liked Ellison, as he recently recalled. “He was a river guide — an expert at realizing that you’re not controlling the river. You’re in a canoe and your job is to be able to read the rapids and to maneuver through life. Walmart needed a river guide. It didn’t need someone who was an expert in carbon at that moment. A river guide helps you understand the landscape and what you can do.”

The company wasn’t yet talking about “sustainability.” The conversation at the time focused on “corporate responsibility.” Whatever it was called, it quickly became a major topic at the Home Office.

In September 2004, Scott and Ruben convened a group of executives for a two-day offsite meeting, at the Shewmaker Center for Workforce Development, a “corporate learning” center at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, not far from the Home Office. Assembled was a group of about 35 company leaders, handpicked by Scott. The group also included two outsiders: Ray Anderson, the visionary industrialist behind Interface carpets, and Fisk Johnson, the fifth-generation chairman and CEO of S.C. Johnson & Son, and a leading Walmart supplier.

The meeting focused on the state of Walmart’s world and what everyone wanted that world to be, in terms of how the retailer was perceived by and interacted with its partners and stakeholders. Both Walton and Scott stuck around for the entire two days of the meeting, a strong sign of the interest from the highest levels of the company.

“There was a lot of debate and back and forth and they all raised their hand that it seemed pretty authentic,” recalled Jib Ellison. “And then the rest of the day was just practical planning. Where should we start? What should we do?”

The meeting broke into small groups, which would become the basis for what were later called Sustainable Value Networks. There were a half-dozen or so networks to begin, on topics such as transportation, supply chain, food, corporate culture — areas where individuals had both expertise and passion, and that mapped to the company’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

The group agreed to reconvene in a few months. By the time they did, in December, there was little question that the company needed to move forward with a strong stance on corporate responsibility — primarily environmental issues, with a few social ones mixed in. To the group, it seemed, as Ruben later put it, “a no-brainer.”

Under fire

It wasn’t a tough decision: The company was under fire from all directions.

“You felt like you were in a bunker of some sorts and there was enemy fire every time you stuck your head up,” Ruben told me last month. “The dissonance was so great between what I saw happening — people with such great intention, what their aspiration was and what they were doing — from the way that that company was now being perceived outside of Bentonville.”

By early 2005, Ruben and Ellison were working together on a regular basis, and Ruben was being seen by Walmart’s leaders as the logical choice to become the company’s first sustainability director.

“Lee started talking to me about moving into sustainability as a role,” recalled Ruben, who left the company in 2012 to co-found the online sharing platform yerdle. Initially, Ruben wasn’t interested. “I turned it down twice until he formally said, ‘I want you to do this.’ I remember sitting across from him — we were travelling together and he was doing a crossword puzzle — and he said ‘Have you thought again about doing sustainability?’ and I gave him the same answer where I basically said, ‘Yeah. I’ve talked to a lot of my mentors. Everyone thinks it’s the worst idea in the world for me. I want to run neighborhood markets.’ He looked over his bifocals and said, ‘We’re so young to think we know what’s best for us.’”

“Lee started talking to me about moving into sustainability as a role. I basically said, ‘Yeah. I’ve talked to a lot of my mentors. Everyone thinks it’s the worst idea in the world for me.”

Ruben went home that night and talked to his wife. “I basically said that if we don’t do this, I’m going to lose my job and we’re going to have to move out of Arkansas. I loved the area, so we agreed, ‘Let’s do it.’ I went back in and told Lee, ‘I’ve thought about it and I’m ready.’ I remember Lee’s words: ‘I think that’s smart.’ That’s all he said.”

As an aside, it’s noteworthy that Ruben wasn’t the only corporate executive having this sort of conversation about making career moves into sustainability. During roughly the same period, Lorraine Bolsinger, chief marketing officer for GE Aviation, was being asked by GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head a new initiative called Ecomagination. (She is now CEO of GE Distributed Power and CMO of GE Power.) And Mark Tercek, after two decades as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, was being asked by its CEO, Hank Paulson, to develop the firm’s environmental strategy and lead its Environmental Markets Group. (Tercek is now CEO of The Nature Conservancy.) The year 2005 seemed to be a pivotal time for a few big companies, under fire and scrutiny by activists, to stake a leadership position in sustainability.

Melissa’s paint can

As the Walmart team dug in, it began a series of projects. There were three types: “quick wins,” which were opportunities to take simple, low-cost measures that could reduce waste, engage employees or create some other benefit; “innovation projects,” longer-term initiatives that might require more stakeholder engagement and financial investment, and which were higher risk but offered attractive outcomes; and “game changers,” big ideas on how to shift entire entire systems and strategies.

Some of this involved tapping into the ideas, passions and wisdom of Walmart’s massive employee base. Indeed, company lore was filled with stories of employee heroics and innovations. One of the better-known stories became referred to as “Melissa’s paint can.”

Melissa Davies was a Walmart associate in Bentonville who noticed that the gallon cans of Dutch Boy paint that Walmart was selling were difficult to use, especially by the women volunteers at her church who often found themselves doing small touch-up jobs. Davies told Dutch Boy that their paint cans weren’t woman-friendly, which led the paint maker to create smaller twist-and-pour packaging that was easier to handle. The innovative packaging became a hit among Walmart customers.

It’s unclear whether that story is even true, but nearly every Walmart employee knows about Melissa’s paint can, which is held up as a shining example of how associates can help Walmart meet customers’ needs, creating wins for both.

For Ruben, Melissa’s story painted a picture he was keen to replicate in sustainability. He wanted to be able to tell tales of environmental improvement that everyone similarly could point to. “The moral of Melissa’s story is that when we do things like this, we save the customer more money than we ever thought,” he said. “We change the way that society looks and our shareholders didn’t even know where that innovation came from.”

Those stories would come — about reducing product packages on a line of kid’s toys, saving $2.4 million a year in shipping costs; about installing balers in stores to recycle plastic packaging, earning $28 million a year for what had been a waste product; about adding auxiliary power units to trucks, saving $20 million annually in fuel costs.

A trickle of “paint can” stories quickly became a gusher. “I would come in in the morning and open my inbox and see 10 stories of people inside the company who are doing things in China and Brazil and Bentonville that I couldn’t even imagine,” said Ruben. “People were figuring out where minerals were coming from in jewelry. People were riding on boats going upstream to learn about wild-caught fish and change the way that’s happening.”

By the end of the first year, Ruben put together a DVD containing 75 such stories, produced in part by having someone walk around with a borrowed camcorder from the electronics group and interview associates to document their ideas and innovations.

Bunking with the CEO

Among the earliest participants in conversations with Walmart was the Environmental Defense Fund. In early 2005, Gwen Ruta, then EDF’s head of corporate partnerships, went to Bentonville to meet with Scott and other environmental groups.

“We immediately saw the opportunity, and there was no hesitation,” Elizabeth Sturcken, EDF’s managing director, corporate partnerships, who leads the organization’s Walmart engagement, told me. “We thought the risk was worth the potential reward.”

EDF has a long and pioneering history working with big and sometimes controversial companies, beginning with McDonald’s in the late 1980s. A behemoth such as Walmart long had been an elusive target for EDF, rife with seemingly unlimited potential for change.

“Walmart was somewhat oblivious to its negative impact on the world,” said Sturcken. “Like every company, they liked to focus on their positive impact — of helping rural and lower-income customers afford everyday goods — and they had put blinders on and not realized, or were choosing to ignore, the impacts of their business model. At that point it was really obvious that their business model was not sustainable and that they had large, negative impacts.”

“At that point it was really obvious that their business model was not sustainable and that they had large, negative impacts.”

EDF had been trying to work with Walmart for years. Fred Krupp, an environmental lawyer who became EDF’s president in 1984, had traveled to Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville in the 1990s “to see if they would work with us,” as he told me. “At the time, the leadership then, at least as high as I was able to get, didn’t have a lot of interest.”

Walmart was, to say the least, a big prize for an environmental group such as EDF. “When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world,” said Krupp. “Once Walmart had an interest in being a leader on these issues, it was pretty easy to see the incredible potential there. Early on, after the initial group meetings, as Lee Scott wanted to learn more about the issues, he had an interest in learning about climate change.”

Scott turned to EDF to help suggest an agenda. “We suggested going to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, having a dinner up there, and spending the night in the bunkroom to learn about how a changing climate was affecting maple syrup production.” That night, Scott and Krupp shared a room full of bunk beds with about 15 other people.

Jib Ellison recalled the trip. “Our idea was, let’s take them on one- or two-day field trips to go places they normally wouldn’t go, to see things they wouldn’t normally see, to talk to people they wouldn’t normally talk to about things they wouldn’t normally talk about in the domain of sustainability. And in a sense connect their emotions with their intellect around this stuff. We wanted to educate them in terms of what is sustainability: why is it material to the business, how does it work as an innovation tool, what are the risks, what are the opportunities?”

“Our idea was, let’s take them on one- or two-day field trips to go places they normally wouldn’t go, to see things they wouldn’t normally see, to talk to people they wouldn’t normally talk to about things they wouldn’t normally talk about in the domain of sustainability.”

“In Mount Washington, we talked about light bulbs,” recalled Krupp. “Steve Hamburg, who is now EDF’s chief scientist and then was a professor at Brown, talked about why it would be great for Walmart to feature energy-efficient bulbs.”

That conversation led to a face-to-face meeting a year later between Scott and Jeff Immelt, his counterpart at GE, the largest maker of compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. The two agreed to collaborate on a full-court press to educate the public about CFLs, and GE agreed to help Walmart sell 100 million of the bulbs by the end of 2007. In the retailer’s legendary, take-no-prisoners style, and with GE’s help, it unleashed an arsenal of initiatives: interactive in-store displays to help customers choose the right CFL; educational displays to allow customers to compare qualities and styles and calculate the potential financial savings, increased shelf space in lighting aisles and displays in unexpected places in its stores, marketing promotions on the company’s in-store TV and radio channels, and education and incentives to its employees to encourage them to generate sales.

Walmart reached its 100 million goal a few months early, in September 2007, and closed the year with sales of about 146 million CFLs. Emboldened by its success, Walmart announced plans to launch its own house brand of energy-efficient bulbs. It became one of the first major successes by Walmart to engage its customers in shifting to greener products.

Said Krupp: “I don’t think I needed a demonstration of what a big force they could be, but I certainly got one following that discussion.”

Walmart’s learning journey didn’t end in New Hampshire. “From Mount Washington we went to Kansas,” said Krupp. “We looked at a farm and the agricultural practices of a farm in Kansas, where Lee was born and raised.” By the end of the trip, Scott had seen the impacts of climate change for himself, including how those impacts could evolve into business issues for Walmart, both threats and opportunities.

By the end of the trip, Lee Scott had seen the impacts of climate change for himself, including how those impacts could evolve into business issues for Walmart, both threats and opportunities.

It wasn’t just about the learnings. The personal connections from those trips were paramount and pivotal to all that would follow, just as it had been for Walton and Seligmann, who bonded during their globe-hopping eco-adventures. Over the years, Krupp has made sure to form similar bonds with Scott’s successors, Mike Duke and the current CEO, Doug McMillon.

By 2007, EDF opened an office in Bentonville, the only major environmental group to do so.

The Walmart-EDF relationship has been enduring and productive, although not without critics. Some environmental groups have looked askance at EDF — a group founded in the late 1960s with the unofficial motto “Sue the bastards” — for its seemingly cozy relationship with the behemoth from Bentonville.

Among EDF’s rules of engagement in its corporate partnerships is that it doesn’t take money from the companies, that it publicly shares any resulting tools or learnings, and that it has the ability to speak freely and candidly about the corporate partner.

It’s worth noting, however, that while EDF hasn’t received financial support directly from Walmart, it has received more than $80 million from the Walton Family Foundation since 2003 — about $13.7 million during 2014, roughly 8 percent of EDF’s $152 million revenue for the year. (During 2014, the Waltons gave more than $202 million to scores of environmental organizations.) EDF says the Walton money funds its work on freshwater conservation in the Colorado and Mississippi rivers, and marine conservation in the Gulf of Mexico. For a handful of critics, the EDF-Walmart relationship represents a conflict of interest.

But it’s not exactly hush money: EDF freely has criticized Walmart over the years (including, for example, this 2010 piece).

Ripple effect

EDF’s Sturcken described to me her experience in working with Walmart, a similar version of which I’d heard for years from a variety of nonprofit organizations, for-profit consultants, academics and some of the thousands of companies, both large and small, that manufacture products sold in Walmart and Sam’s Club stores.

There are common themes: the rapid speed at which things can happen when the company decides to move forward; the eye-popping data about how one seemingly small change in packaging or a product or process can have a massive environmental impact; the ripple effect those changes can have in the company’s supply chain; the straight-talking, down-to-earth directness of the Walmart leadership team.

“Despite being such a big company, they were the fastest-moving company I’ve worked with,” said Sturcken, whose other corporate engagements have included McDonald’s, Fedex and UPS.

Having an office in Bentonville, said Sturcken, meant being able to meet with the company regularly to brainstorm ideas, talk through hard issues “and be really candid and work through challenges and be honest about our assessment of both what they should be doing, where they’re making progress and where they’re falling down. Being there over the long term has really engendered trust and access and therefore impact and results.”

As Krupp told me, it is a lesson that Procter & Gamble, Unilever and other big companies that sell to Walmart have come to realize: “Being on the ground, helping to provide information, solve problems — there’s no substitute for that. We learned that lesson early on. That is one of the ways we’re able to have a good relationship with Walmart that is informed by their challenges and their needs. The more we are informed about their perspective, the more helpful we can be solving problems.”

It’s been a synergistic relationship, to be sure. Walmart gets free consulting help from a nonprofit with a deep bench of business-savvy researchers and scientists. Meanwhile, EDF has a great story to tell the world and, not insignificantly, its funders.

It’s hard to tell who’s getting the better deal. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the planet.